Over the last two decades, artificial intelligence has remained a leading technology trend. In nearly all major industries from healthcare to advertising, AI is revolutionizing the world and making it a better place. We encounter AI every day, in small everyday objects like Roomba to avoid obstacles to bigger use cases such as medical imaging and diagnosis. Another industry where AI can do wonders is waste management. 

According to the World Bank, annual waste management is expected to rise by 73% to about 3.88 billion tonnes from 2020 to 2050. 

In 2022, waste management is no longer an issue of tomorrow. Climate change is impacting the world at a rapid pace and the best way we can bring change is through optimal waste management. To build a sustainable future for ourselves and our coming generations, it’s vital to manage waste efficiently. However, effective waste management is highly dependent on how much people know about waste management and are willing to put in an effort.

In this article, we will discuss how AI is revolutionizing waste management via technologies such as MRF (material recovery facility) and smart bins.

AI in Waste Management

We hear about exciting technologies like self-driving cars and facial recognition, but there’s more to AI than that. Waste management in most countries is a manual process. Even in developed countries, at least part of the waste management process is manual. 

We are producing more and more waste every year. According to the EPA, the amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) in 2018 was 292.4 million tons, which is almost 23.7 million tons more than the amount generated in 2017. 

AI is changing the very way we collect, transport, and sort all types of waste from medical waste to biohazard waste. Robotics coupled with AI and machine learning have improves the quality of waste management process as it becomes more and more complex, and the health conditions for workers. 

There are two ways we are using AI in waste management, smart recycling bins and material recovery facility (MRF). We will discuss each approach in detail below. 

Smart Recycling Bins 

A smart recycling bin monitors and sorts waste at the time of disposal. It uses AI (artificial intelligence), computer vision, robotics, and machine learning to efficiently and accurately sort waste. 

The advantage of using a smart bin is that it sports garbage immediately after disposal which leads to minimal or no contamination. It’s designed mainly for places where people dispose of waste without a second thought. That includes commercial buildings, hospitals, stadiums, airports, and high-traffic areas. 

How Smart Recycling Bins Work

Here’s how an AI waste management system generally works:

  1. Garbage is disposed into the bins which are scanned via cameras and the information is sent to the servers. 
  2. The system uses AI and computer vision to sort waste into various categories. 
  3. With the help of robotic automation, the waste is put into its respective bin.
  4. Whenever the bin is full, it sends a notification to the user that it’s ready to be emptied. 

Material Recovery Facility

A material recovery facility (MRF) is a plant where single-stream recycling materials are separated and prepared to be sold to end-users. The facility sports a wide array of recyclables including but not limited to plastics, paper, cardboard (OCC), metal, glass, etc. 

There are two primary types of material recovery facility, clean and dirty. In a clean MRF, only residential or commercial single-stream recyclables are processed while in a dirty MRF, residential or commercial trash is processed in the hopes of capturing recyclables that have incorrectly been thrown away with the regular trash. 

How Material Recovery Facilities Work

Here’s how a material recovery facility work:

  1. Collection trucks carry waste and drop it off to a facility. 
  2. Materials are moved to a pre-sorting station via conveyer belts. There, the non-recyclable items, hazardous materials, and contaminants like plastic bags are removed and sent to a landfill or incinerator. 
  3. Remaining items continue moving forward on the conveyer belt. On the way, cardboards are separated from smaller items like jars and paper. 
  4. Papers are separated via blowing air and are manually processed along with cardboard. 
  5. Metals are separated via electromagnets and eddy current separators from plastics and glass.
  6. Glasses are crushed into cullets for easier transportation. 
  7. Infrared technology is used to separate plastic by polymer types and sent it to landfills or incinerators.
  8. The separated materials are sent to the facility’s shipping dock to be sold to manufacturers. 

Smart Bin Systems Vs. Material Recovery Facility

While the goal of both smart bins and MRFs is to reduce waste that goes into landfills and improve reusability, each approach has certain advantages over the other. We will outline some of the main differences in the table below.

Smart Recycling BinsMaterial Recovery Facility 
SpeedWaste is sorted as soon as it is dumpled.Single-stream recycling materials from the curbside recycling bins are collected and resorted. 
Accuracy Uses AI and computer vision, which means up to 97% accuracy.High accuracy rates due to the use of AI and ML.
Human InterventionAlmost no human intervention from the very beginning. Sorts and processes materials recycled by humans leaving room for human error.
Garbage Collection frequencyBins send a notification once they are full and are ready to be emptied.Garbage is collected regularly from the curbside.
Ease of UseVery easy to use and perfect solution for busy areas.Materials are collected from recycling bins and sent to the facility. 

The major reason why smart recycling bins are more effective compared to MRFs is the lack of human intervention. Humans, despite their best intentions often become the biggest barriers to recycling. Due to a gap in recycling education, people often throw away oily and greasy containers into the recycling bins. Not only are those non-recyclables, but they also end up contaminating the rest of the garbage in the bin. Smart bins eliminate the need by overtaking garbage sorting at the very time of disposal. This makes waste management faster, more accurate, and effective.

How to Get Started with AI Waste Management

We often hear about AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics in modern technology and how it’s changing the world for the better. Waste management is another area where AI and robotics are trying to make the world a better place. With AI recycling bins such as TrashBot, you can start your struggle against global warming and climate change. TrashBot is an excellent solution for businesses where everyone is busy and cannot sort the garbage upon disposal. It uses AI and computer vision to sort and separate materials upon disposal with up to 95% accuracy.