AMP Robotics has received significantly more orders for recycling-sorting robots since the start of the pandemic.
Some see this as a sign of things to come: nonessential workers in struggling industries being replaced by robots.
While most people would not have called recycling a “struggling industry” a month ago, Covid-19 has forced recycling plants to close, save those who traded human workers for machines.
The question remains: when things get back to normal, will recycling companies return to using a human workforce, or will they retain their cheaper, more efficient machines?
Recycling Under Unusual Circumstances
March bore witness to the closures of most recycling facilities in the UK. All Household Waste and Recycling Centers (HWRCs) shuttered, which took care of the majority of citizens’ recycling needs.
A similar thing happened in America: recycling centers in high infection areas closed to reduce the spread of Covid-19, as thousands of people were frequenting these tight quarters every week.
Now, with everyone stuck at home, there’s even more trash to be sifted and fewer employees to do it. The solution: robots.
Meet the Robots
AMP Robotics has been fielding calls from recycling facilities needing not just one or two of their robots, but several.
The company’s dual-robot recycling system sorts, picks, and places a wide variety of material via artificial intelligence.
This system can make 160 picks in a minute. Another recycling robot is ReconRobotics’ “smart gripper”, which can pick and separate 2,000 items in an hour. To put this in perspective, a human worker can make 800 picks in an hour, or just over 13 per minute.
While robots are doing a lot of the recycling jobs, they can’t do them all.
Scrap metal pickup is still an essential service, particularly for businesses still trading, such as electricians, construction firms, and machinist shops who accumulate large quantities of unneeded metal.
What Happens to the People?
Although employers in the recycling industry stress that automated machinery will not replace human workers, marketing experts disagree. A new paradigm of social distancing is being set that may outlast the pandemic.
Robots, along with replacing recycling workers, can enable the few that remain to work farther from one another. Therefore, some human jobs will remain, but, as marketing analyst Mark Muro says, “You may see fewer workers when the recovery does come.”
With humans in lockdown, robots are taking over certain jobs, especially those in the recycling industry.
When these emergency measures are lifted, it’s unlikely that recycling companies will go back to less efficient and more expensive human workers. Robotic recycling is the future that we can’t help but let happen.