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Florida Unveils State’s First Recycling Robot

The Sarasota MRF is using AI and robotics to help sort food and beverage cartons.

Sarasota, Fla.-based Single Stream Recyclers (SSR), a materials recovery facility (MRF) that serves residential and commercial recycling programs, announced the introduction of Florida’s first artificial intelligence (AI)-powered recycling robotic system.

The robot is guided by AI to identify, grab and sort aseptic and gable top food and beverage cartons from the recycling stream. SSR opened its Sarasota facility in March 2018.

“We are excited to be a leader in Florida—and the country—in adding this innovative technology to make sure we capture as many food and beverage cartons as possible to prevent them from ending up in landfills,’’ said John Hansen, co-owner of SSR, in a statement.

Developed by AMP Robotics, the system uses advanced computer vision and machine learning to recognize different colors, textures, shapes, sizes and patterns that identify food and beverage cartons in the recycling stream. Then, it directs a high-speed robot to pick, sort and place the cartons for recycling. The robot learns as it goes, improving over time and picking up to 80 items per minute, about double the average pick rate of a human, the company noted.

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The carton recycling robot was the first of six robots installed at the nearly 100,000-square-foot recycling facility.

“It’s more important than ever to sort out the most valuable materials. Employing this robot will be another step toward making recycling more effective, while also reducing the amount of waste that goes to our landfills, or worse, ends up as litter,” added Hansen.

“SSR is leading the way as a recycling innovator, with this being the single largest deployment of AI and robotics in the nation. John and his team have been fantastic to work with in making this happen,” said Matanya Horowitz, CEO of AMP Robotics, in a statement. “Robotics will continue to revolutionize recycling, and this represents another milestone of industry adoption. The support from SSR and the Carton Council puts us another step closer to making that possible.’’

The installation of the robot at SSR was made possible through a grant from the Carton Council of North America, a consortium of carton manufacturers dedicated to improving and expanding carton recycling. By helping recycling facilities capture food and beverage cartons more efficiently, the Carton Council hopes it will encourage more facilities and the communities they serve to promote cartons as a recyclable packaging that consumers should recycle through their curbside and other local programs.

“We are thrilled to partner with SSR on bringing this cutting-edge technology to Florida,’’ said Scott Byrne, director of government affairs for the Carton Council and circular economy expert for the U.S. and Canada for Tetra Pak, in a statement. “Food and beverage cartons are a recyclable package. Made of high-quality fiber with end markets across North America, as well as solid export options, they should go on to be used to produce new paper products or environmentally friendly building materials. We hope other communities will take note and boost their efforts to capture as many food and beverage cartons as possible.’’

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