Recycling Product News Logo

This ad will close in 15 seconds

A new era of automation in recycling processing

The rise of technology is right on time to parry market pressure

A new era of automation in recycling processing

Industrial recycling at its core is a manufacturing process that creates products, but it is certainly not as simple or as streamlined as, for example, producing toothpicks. We don't have the luxury of controlled and predictable inputs, repeatable processes and identical outputs. While other industries have been heavily automated for decades, recycling has remained dependent upon people controlling inputs, making decisions and directly participating in the production process through manual sorting. The largest hurdle to overcome remains the inherent nature of the waste stream; it's highly variable and unpredictable, and includes everything - including the kitchen sink. 

We've come a long way since the inception of materials recovery facilities (MRFs), making major advancements in technology and process design, including advanced optical sorting and the rise of the super MRF. Processing is more efficient and effective than it has ever been. But it's not good enough.   

By now we're all familiar with China's National Sword policy and the impact it is having on our industry. The world's largest buyer of recycled commodities has demanded that we make them better. No longer is 87 octane sufficient, but 93 is demanded - and at the same price. Processors are spending more time and money to improve the purity of their products: slowing down their lines, hiring more sorters and adding equipment. 

These changes inherently mean increased capital expenditures and operational costs, and in many cases less production. While that may sound negative, the timing could not be better, because we're ready. Concurrent with the demand for increased quality comes new technology in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that significantly disrupts the economics of our manufacturing process. 

MAX-AI technology
People have historically played an important role in the industrial recycling process because of our ability to make sense of the variable and unpredictable nature of a waste stream. We use our eyes to see what's on a belt, our brains to think and make decisions and our hands to pick and place items in the proper chutes. Empowered by revolutionary, artificially intelligent (AI) technology, Max-AI from Bulk Handling Systems (BHS) now allows the Max-AI AQC (Autonomous Quality Control) robotic sorter to accomplish the same tasks that people can perform. 

Fundamentally, Max-AI technology identifies recyclables in a similar way to a person. A process called deep learning runs through hundreds of thousands of images to train neural networks to "think out" the correct identification. Once built these neural networks resemble the architecture of the brain and, when paired with a camera, will correctly identify the items in our recycling stream in near-real time. Through training, Max is also able to very accurately identify items never seen before, based on probability. While this breakthrough technology seems complicated, we often find ourselves explaining it with the straightforward phrase: "If a person can identify where it belongs, so can Max." 

Max-AI technology is changing the industry. In numerous plants around the world, the AQC is sorting containers at speeds faster than a manual sorter. There is no risk of Max being late, walking off the job or getting hurt. Perhaps the best part is that Max doesn't take breaks and can work multiple shifts. The Max-AI AQC is also at work on residue belts, pulling commodities that would otherwise go to landfill. Later this year, Max-AI technology will be employed on paper sorting lines. BHS' recently announced RePower South project includes only four human sorters. As this technology matures, it will be common to have no sorters at all.

Economics and data in the MRF
Economics in the MRF change significantly without having to rely on 15, 20, 50 or more manual sorters. Consider the financial impact, when running two or three shifts is only marginally more expensive than running one. The labour savings alone account for millions of dollars every year the system is operational - not to mention the production benefits and savings from buying a smaller system that runs nearly all day. Suddenly, the addition of a few more optical sorters to increase purity looks much better on a pro forma basis. Rather than spending more and slowing down to produce less, subsequent generations of MRFs will automate more to boost production, purity and profits. 

Additionally, Max-AI technology does more than empower robots to sort - it will provide recyclers with previously unavailable intelligence about their business. Could an operator look at a screen today and tell exactly what is in his or her PET bunker? With the Max-AI Visual Identification System (VIS), he or she can. VIS is Max-AI technology without the robot. VIS identifies material and collects data that are visualized through BHS' advanced controls and business intelligence software. It can alert an operator of material status or changes at any point in the system, and even certify a bale's contents. Eventually, VIS will be used to dynamically optimize a system, making autonomous real-time adjustments to equipment including infeed, conveyors, screens, optical sorters, balers and everything else. Even the best MRF operator couldn't possibly observe and comprehend what's on every conveyor, analyze it in real time and make adjustments. Soon they won't have to try. 

AI has enabled the recycling process to reach a new age of automation, where investments in new technology are a welcome addition in exchange for higher production, increased quality and much lower operational expenses. Again, the roadblock to fully automating our production process has been the nature of our waste streams being highly variable and unpredictable. This problem is solved with AI. This technology can now see, think and act. It's the beginning of a new era of automation, and it's going to be a fun ride. 

This article was contributed by Bulk Handling Systems, and was originally published in the March, 2018 edition of Recycling Product News, volume 26, Number 2.

Through deep learning technology, Max-AI employs both multi-layered neural networks and a vision system to see and identify recyclable objects similar to the way a person does.

More from Paper Recycling

​Canada Fibers awarded contracts to design, build and operate two technologically advanced recycling facilities

Canada Fibers Limited (CFL) has been awarded two contracts to design, build and operate advanced single-stream post-consumer Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Peel, Ontario.  The Company is constructing an 80 thousand square foot greenfield facility in Winnipeg and is retrofitting the Region of Peel's existing MRF.  Both projects involve advancements to recovery technologies in response to increasingly rigorous quality standards from industries utilizing post-consumer recyclable materials. 

Machinex and Canada Fibers partnership to result in two of the most technologically advanced single-stream facilities in North America

Toronto-based Canada Fibers Ltd. (CFL) is building two single-stream recycling facilities in 2019 that will include the most advanced, high-tech fibre and plastics sorting and recovery systems in Canada. In Winnipeg, Manitoba, a completely new 30-tonnes-per-hour facility (approximately 80,000 square feet) is currently under construction and scheduled to open in the fall. In the Region of Peel, Ontario, the existing Peel Integrated Waste Management Facility MRF, owned by the Region, will be retrofitted for 31.5-tonnes-per-hour capacity, with the updated facility (approximately 85,000 square feet) scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2020. 

Both good and bad news for OCC and recovered paper exporters to start 2019

The good news for recovered paper exporters as the calendar flipped to another new year was China's issuance of almost six million short tons worth of import licenses in December. The first batch of permits issued by China's Ministry of the Environment, covering about 5.5 million tons, was more than double the amount of recovered paper allowed by China's first batch a year earlier.

Balcones Resources celebrates 25 years in business

Balcones Resources celebrated its 25th anniversary in business this month, growing from a small Austin-based paper recycler to a comprehensive environmental services company with facilities in Austin, Dallas and Little Rock. Balcones marked the milestone with a reception featuring a presentation of $25,000 in total donations to five Austin-area environmental organizations: EcoRise, Hill Country Conservancy, Keep Austin Beautiful, Shoal Creek Conservancy and Waller Creek Conservancy.

​TOMRA Sorting Recycling adds to product support team in North America

TOMRA Sorting Recycling has announced two additions to their North America product support team. Sean Hyacinth has been added as a field service engineer for TOMRA optical sorting equipment, while Kevin Javier Montalvo assumes the newly created position of customer project manager, recycling. Both team members will work directly with TOMRA dealers and customers to strengthen equipment service and project management throughout North America. 

​Wolfgang Schiller appointed CEO of ZenRobotics

ZenRobotics Ltd. has appointed Wolfgang Schiller as the company's new CEO, effective immediately. Prior to ZenRobotics, Mr. Schiller was the Vice President Electronics Industry at KUKA AG, a leading supplier of intelligent automation solutions. According to ZenRobotics, as CEO, Schiller will be responsible for further developing ZenRobotics' business and accelerating the uptake of intelligent robots in waste management. 

SamurAI sorting robot finding success in the recycling industry

In the spring of 2018, Plessisville, Quebec-based Machinex introduced its new SamurAI sorting robot, which, according to the manufacturer, has since generated a lot of industry interest. Nearly six months after its launch, the response of the market has been very positive and nine robots have been sold to date. The first two SamurAI in Canada have just been installed in Quebec while six more robots will be installed by next year in Canadian sorting centers. Moreover, the company says they continue to have regular requests from customers who are greatly interested in this cutting-edge technology.

Greif to acquire Caraustar Industries

Greif, Inc., a global provider of industrial packaging products and services, announced December 20 that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Caraustar Industries, Inc., the leading recycled paperboard and packaging solutions company, from an affiliate of H.I.G. Capital, in a cash transaction valued at $1.8 billion. The transaction is expected to close during the first quarter of calendar year 2019, subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory clearances. 

​ISRI's 2018 Industry Yearbook confirms recycling industry resilience in year of change

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) recently announced the release of its seventh annual Recycling Industry Yearbook, providing the most up-to-date information and statistics about the U.S. recycling industry and global scrap marketplace. With a greater spotlight on the industry in the wake of rising trade protectionism around the globe, the publication provides the most comprehensive analysis of where the industry stands based on the most current data compared to previous years. It will also serves as a baseline for years to come based on the new global market realities.

free-paper-airplane

Get our newsletter

Learn more

REDWAVE report provides insight on the current state of the European paper recycling industry

The purpose of paper recycling is to produce high quality recycled paper, responding to the high-quality specifications required by paper consumers either from the graphic, hygiene or packaging sectors. In consequence, any collection scheme should be designed in a way to provide grades of paper for recycling adapted to the requirements of high value recycling, according to the EN 643 to the paper industry, either directly or after sorting. (EN 643 is the European List of Standard Grades of Paper and Board for Recycling.)

Mondi partnerships focused on waste diversion and plastics recycling initiatives

Mondi, a global leader in packaging and paper has partnered with One Young World, the global forum for young leaders, on the Lead2030 initiative - a competition to find youth-led practical solutions to drive progress on the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Mondi has committed $50,000 to fund a project that will make a tangible contribution to SDG12 ‘Responsible Consumption and Production'. 

​Highlights from the 19th annual Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference NA

This year's 19th edition of the Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference North America, held in Chicago from October 17 through 19th and produced by the Recycling Today Media Group, was a very informative, well organized and well attended event, and a good reflection of the mixed feelings currently being expressed by the industry with respect to the state of paper and plastics recycling. On the technology side of the industry, things are largely positive. Business is good. From the latest plastics additive and stabilizing technologies designed to enhance the physical properties and thereby the quality of recycled plastics for compounders and other reprocessors, to the significant advances in sorting, screening and other equipment being put forward by leading manufacturers, it is clear that there is solid demand, and excellent solutions available to help profitably create better quality recycled materials from challenging input streams. The advances in this sector are in fact rapid and ongoing. The latest robotic and optical sorting, coupled with artificially intelligent (AI) "learning" technologies, are particularly impressive - making it difficult for anyone to deny that high-tech materials sorting has a huge role to play in the future of this industry.

​ReWall provides expanded end market for food and beverage cartons in Colorado

The ReWall Company, which turns recycled food and beverage cartons into environmentally friendly building materials, is set to open a new facility in Colorado that will expand end markets for recycled cartons in the western United States. ReWall makes high-performance, sustainable building and construction materials out of recycled food and beverage cartons through a proprietary process that uses no chemicals or water. It takes about 400 cartons to produce one sheet of ReWall's hail-resistant roof cover board.

Meeting new challenges at the MRF

This past summer, Van Dyk Recycling Solutions sponsored and hosted a webinar titled "MRFs in Crisis! Where do we go from here?" During the webinar, Van Dyk's sales manager and process Engineer, Adam Lovewell, along with colleague Mark Neitzey, focused on the topic of how recycling businesses have been struggling to deal with China's changes in import policy. According to Lovewell and Neitzey, the so-called "China crisis" has exposed serious issues throughout the recycling industry and "we have hit a critical point where owners and operators need to take a hard look at their equipment's ability to handle changes in the stream."

MRF Operations Forum 2018

Recycling Today Media Group's 2018 Paper & Recycling Conference North America, the 19th edition, opened officially Wednesday, October 17 in Chicago, following the third annual day-long MRF Operations Forum dedicated to best practices at material recovery facilities. Jim Keefe, RT's Publisher opened the 2018 MRF Operations Forum Tuesday morning by welcoming approximately 100 attendees and introducing the first session: "Dynamic MRF Operations". The title is an appropriate one -- reflecting the overall theme for the day: with changing incoming recycling streams combined with changing global end markets, MRF operations need to be dynamic - adapting to changes and changing the way they operate - to maintain profitability. 

Axxess controls from EPAX designed to improve the safe use of waste compactors and balers

Epax Systems, a specialist in waste management with more than 30 years of experience, recently developed a new method to control industrial compactors and balers called Axxess controls.  According to the company, over the last decade, safety and security have become concerns for multi-use property managers who are seeking to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration's requirements for controlling balers and compactors in their facilities. Since 2017, clients of Epax Systems, inc.  have increasingly communicated the need to improve on their traditional key switch systems, which requires employees to use an on/off key switch to control their compactor or cardboard baler.

CP Anti-Wrap Screen introduced

CP Group has introduced the CP Anti-Wrap Screen, the California-based recycling equipment manufacturer's second new screen of 2018. The new CP Anti-Wrap Screen accurately separates newsprint and large fiber from material streams by using high-amplitude elliptical discs to agitate material.  

free-magazine-subscription

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more

TOMRA Sorting Recycling's new E-book addresses need to improve deinking recycling rates

TOMRA Sorting Recycling has published a new e-book providing advice for businesses who sort paper and cardboard for deinking and recycling. The new online publication addresses the intensifying commercial and regulatory pressures for higher recovery rates of deinked pulp and the fact that meeting these demands will require new technical solutions. The e-book introduces an exceptionally effective new solution.

NRT adds Max-AI technology to optical sorters

National Recovery Technologies (NRT) has integrated the company's NRT SpydIR® optical sorter with Max-AI® technology, creating a revolutionary new sorter with detection abilities unmatched in today's optical sorter market, according to the company. NRT's SpydIR technology uses near infrared light (NIR) detection to identify plastics, paper, wood and other materials by material type. Max-AI technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to identify materials using a camera and neural network algorithm (NN). The NRT SpydIR with Max-AI optical sorter employs both detection technologies to create an optical sorter that is able to combine the information from each technology to deliver a unique sorting capability.  

Binder+Co introduces unique sorting for light packaging; first machine operating in U.S.

According to Austria-based Binder+Co, due to China's recently imposed scrap import restrictions, concerns are growing in Europe and in North America about how to cope with plastic waste. The industry is sceptical about reuse, because the required quality of secondary raw material is, for the most part, not ensured, and the use of plastic waste as alternate fuel in incinerators makes too little use of plastic as a valuable secondary raw material.

Canada Fibers files breach of contract claim against City of Hamilton

Canada Fibers Ltd. (CFL) has announced that it has filed a statement of claim with the Superior Court of Ontario asserting damages arising from breach of contract by the City of Hamilton. CFL's decision to file the claim follows over 12 months of negotiations with Hamilton staff that culminated in a recommendation by the City's staff proposing measures to resolve the breach and end the dispute. Unfortunately, Hamilton City Council has rejected the compromise recommended by staff and made it necessary for CFL to seek a remedy in the courts. 

Norway's largest waste management company first to implement BHS Max-AI VIS to monitor outbound product quality

Norsk Gjenvinning (NG), Norways largest waste management company, has selected Oregon-based Bulk Handling Systems (BHS) to supply NG's new state of the art paper recycling system in Oslo. Operational in Q1 2019, the system will process 20 tonnes per hour (tph) and run three shifts to process approximately 120,000 tonnes annually. Noteworthy to this process is the inclusion of Max-AI VIS (Visual Identification System) units to monitor the quality of outbound paper.  

International Baler introduces first “European Style” Auto-Tie made in the USA

International Baler Corp. (IBC) has begun production of their new ATX Auto-Tie baler series, a high-volume, "European style" baler for MRF and MSW applications. IBC is the first manufacturer to offer this class of machine in the USA. Built entirely in their plant in Jacksonville, Florida, IBC offers US customers a domestic alternative to the high cost and extended lead time of overseas shipping, parts, and service.

ISRI releases statement on China’s announcement of tariffs on all scrap imports

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), has released the following statement in response to China's announcement that it will impose a retaliatory tariff on the import of all scrap commodities from the U.S.: "ISRI is already hearing from contacts in China that the announcement has caused consternation among Chinese consumers of U.S. scrap commodities. Although these tariffs will not be levied on imports from other countries, it is our understanding that other regions may not be able to fulfill all of China's demand. This is in line with other reports that the trade war has had an impact on the Chinese economy across many sectors. 

​Paperboard to replace plastic for Swedish card manufacturer and others, including products from IKEA and Apple

According to a press release from Iggesund Paperboard, part of the Swedish forest industry group Holmen,  a number of global companies have replaced, or are doing trials to replace, the material in their gift cards - from plastic to paperboard. Sweden's largest cinema chain, SF Bio, has taken the plunge and is now replacing all its cards.

free-paper-airplane

Get our newsletter

Learn more

Swedish waste management company, ​Lundstams, invests in robotic sorting to increase resource recovery

 The Swedish waste management company Lundstams Återvinning AB and Mared AB have agreed on the delivery of ZenRobotics waste sorting robots to one of their facilities in Northern Sweden. The new sorting line will allow Lundstams to process waste more efficiently and closer to the source. The robotic sorting line is expected to be operational in the first quarter of 2019.

​Machinex provides new single-stream MRF to York County, South Carolina

Machinex was recently awarded the bid to provide a new single-stream material recovery system (MRF) for York County, South Carolina. The facility is planned to begin operations this July. This new system will allow the County to process the growing tonnage of residential recycling materials being generated in the surrounding area. Material is coming from 16 collection and recycling centres located throughout the County and this new facility will processes all collected recyclables.

​Recycling industry focuses on improved quality with latest changes to Paper Specifications

The paper recycling industry has been working diligently over the last several years to improve the quality of the recycling stream. Through a collaborative effort, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries' (ISRI) Paper Stock Industries (PSI) Chapter and ISRI's Paper Division - whose members include recyclers, paper mills, MRF operators and other industry stakeholders -- are working to improve the quality of recycled material through a reduction in contamination. This effort recently included an update to the "Guidelines for Paper Stock" in ISRI's Scrap Specifications Circular that among other changes, clearly lists items that are considered "Prohibitive Materials" and should not be included in the recycling stream. In addition, for the first time, "Zero Tolerance" is also defined.

ZenRobotics Fast Picker, latest addition to line of intelligent waste sorting robots

This May, ZenRobotics introduced their Fast Picker, the latest addition to the company's line of intelligent waste sorting robots.  Featured in the above video, the Fast Picker is a result of decade-long experience in waste robotics and couples the most intelligent software with high-speed picking, according to ZenRobotics. Designed to improve the efficiency of MRF's, Fast Picker is ideal for lightweight material such as packaging (LWP) and dry mixed recyclables (DMR).

free-magazine-subscription

Get Our Magazine

Paper or Digital delivered monthly to you

Subscribe or Renew Learn more