Carton recycling robot 50 per cent more productive, claim researchers

carton recycling robot

Project uses artificial intelligence to identify, grab, and separate food and beverage cartons

The Carton Council of North America says that it has been conducting a pilot program that uses artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of carton recycling.

Its research concluded that the system was 50 per cent more productive.

Through a collaboration led by the Carton Council with two Denver-based companies, AMP Robotics and Alpine Waste & Recycling, a robotic system has learned to identify the wide variety of food and beverage cartons in order to grab and separate them from the recycling stream.

The AMP Cortex, nicknamed “Clarke” after the sci-fi author and futurist Arthur C. Clarke, has spider-like arms with specially designed grippers to pick up and separate cartons at a materials recovery facility.

Clarke was installed in late 2016 and, through fine-tuning and adjustments, has achieved a pickup rate of 60 cartons per minute. This is a considerable increase from the human average of 40 picks per minute. 

carton recycling robot

Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, for Tetra Pak cluster Americas, says: “Clarke greatly expands opportunities for the carton industry as we work to increase the efficiency of carton recycling and, ultimately, divert more cartons from landfills.

“Everything Clarke has learned about identifying cartons can be transferred to robots at other MRFs. We are excited to bring innovation to carton recycling and believe this technology has widespread implications for the recycling industry, as it can be adapted to other materials.’’

Matanya Horowitz, founder of AMP Robotics in Denver, says: “Clarke provides a new and exciting approach to sorting recyclables. Currently there is nothing out there that does what this system does.

“Clarke can be a cost-effective way for facilities to introduce new packaging that does not always have a large volume. Additionally, unique grippers can be developed to identify and pick contaminants, which is one of the biggest issues our industry currently faces.”

Brent Hildebrand, vice president of recycling at Alpine, says: “At Alpine, we’re always looking at innovative ways to divert waste from landfills while making recycling programs more cost-effective.

“We recognized this opportunity with the Carton Council and AMP Robotics as a way to contribute toward methods that might encourage people to recycle more. We are extremely impressed with the advances Clarke has already made.”

The project was possible through a grant from the Carton Council. The Carton Council formed in 2009 to expand carton recycling nationwide by building an infrastructure for recycling aseptic and gable-top cartons used for many common food and beverage products.

Ultimately, the Carton Council and AMP Robotics hope to duplicate the success of Clarke at other MRFs as an innovative, cost-effective, long-term solution to sort cartons.

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