As the world’s focus has changed to a plastic-free world, scientists are researching new approaches to minimize the plastic footprint on the planet. This has given rise to the number of researches going on in this field. Also, students of various streams have tried to develop ways to utilize the plastic already present in the world (recycling) or design newer bi-degradable versions of it. And, the latest development in this field entails the design of a robot to help sort the different plastics.
Engineering researchers are developing a unique method to increase the recycling of soft plastics. They are creating an intelligent robot that can identify, sort, and separate different types of recyclable waste.
Despite recent improvements in plastic recycling, landfill is becoming a bigger problem. Soft plastics like cling wrap and plastic bags are a significant contributor to the problem. Reports show that 94 percent of soft plastics ended up in landfills in 2016-17. Furthermore, soft plastics have insufficient recycling procedures since they quickly entangle in trash separation machines, causing mechanical failure and contamination of other recyclable materials like paper. As a result of this problem, current recycling methods rely on the laborious and risky physical sorting of soft plastics.
Working alongside industry partners as part of a federal government Cooperative Research Centre Project grant, researchers from the Centre for Internet of Things (IoT) and Telecommunications at the University of Sydney are developing a unique method to increase soft plastics recycling. They are creating a smart, automated robotic system that uses an AI to sort recyclable waste.
Professor Yonghui Li, Professor Branka Vucetic, Associate Professor Wanli Ouyang, Dr. Wanchun Liu, and Senior Technical Officer Dawei Tan from the School of Electrical and Information Engineering are part of the team.
“The system will utilize Artificial intelligence and computer vision to learn how to recognize different types of recycling trash. It will be able to effectively ‘see’ and ‘sort’ trash. Meanwhile, it will learn to segregate waste streams and maintain the purity of soft plastics “Professor Vucetic, an IoT specialist, stated.
“Soft plastics have long been a concern in the waste management industries, contributing considerably to landfills and in the circular economy. In addition, they have lacked an adequate and safe sorting method. However, we have built a special robot to tackle this problem utilizing the newest IoT technology “Professor Yonghui Li stated.
Dr. Wanchun Liu stated, “Australia produced 2.5 million tonnes of plastic trash, including soft plastics, during 2018 and 2019″. However, just 9% of the waste was recycled, while 84% was disposed of in landfills. Our objective is to drastically reduce those figures by creating a technique that allows recycling of soft plastic litter.”
This project is in collaboration with technology developers Licella, Mike Ritchie and Associates, trash management firms IQRenew and CurbCycle, and Resource Recovery Design.
They will integrate the system into IQ Renew’s material recovery facility in CurbCycle’s soft plastic recovery program. This Australian initiative involves the household collection of recyclables that are segregated into bags before placing them into their recycling bin.
“Our project saves landfill space by diverting home soft plastics. It also collaborates with our industry and research partners to develop a trash collecting and sorting solution. We’re also building a long-term supply chain to transport trash from homes to end markets “Wanli Ouyang, Associate Professor agreed.
“The robot will recognize ‘CurbyTagged’ bags and distinguish between different types of plastic. It will also separate soft plastics from the fully co-mingled recyclables,” he said.
Soft plastics will find use in various purposes after they separate them from other waste. It will include advanced recycling into oils and other chemicals using patented Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor technology created by Licella Holdings. Licella was created by Professor Thomas Maschmeyer of the Faculty of Science and Licella CEO Dr.Len Humphreys. Also, The University of Sydney supported its initiative for 14 years.
Professor Maschmeyer states, “The Cat-HTR conversion technology’s range might be extended with the aid of this extremely unique materials handling method. It can now handle more difficult waste streams, demonstrating the value of close industry and academic partnership “.
A CRC-P grant from the Australian Federal Government gave the researchers $2,999,220. Professor Maschmeyer of the University’s School of Chemistry also works with Licella as a Principal Technology Consultant.