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You may have come across a TrashBot if you’re a frequent traveler, work at a hospital, or stop in at events with a healthy attendance. If you haven’t seen or heard of it, the quick rundown of TrashBot is, it’s a neat little smart box that uses AI technology to sort your recycling, effectively taking the guessing game of, “can this be recycled?” out of your hands.

Gage Edwards

August 9, 2023

5 Min Read
trashbot 1540.jpg
Image provided by CleanRobotics/TrashBot

AI is creating better efficiencies and processes every day, especially regarding waste and recycling.

Whether taking the guessing game out of our uninformed hands or helping us learn in our quest for knowledge, that is exactly what TrashBot is doing across the United States - using its AI receptacles give consumers some clear insight about recycling.

You may have come across a TrashBot if you’re a frequent traveler, work at a hospital, or stop in at events with a healthy attendance. 

TrashBot is a smart box that uses AI technology to sort your recycling, effectively taking the guessing game of “can this be recycled?” out of your hands. Currently, TrashBot is reporting a 95 percent accuracy rate, and it’s only getting more accurate.

As TrashBot helps users on the front end of the recycling process by ensuring the materials are going to the right place, it also sends users off with some education, if needed. For example, if someone were to recycle a plastic water bottle that still had a little water in it, TrashBot would let the user know an empty bottle is much more recyclable than one with contents. Essentially,TrashBot is a way to recycle and an educational tool.

Plus, TrashBot can gather data for locations that have the smart box installed. It can effectively educate sustainability officers and building management on their waste streams and create an effective waste program based on exactly what is going through their systems. This bit of intel for these locations plays a significant role in maximizing the efficiency of TrashBot.

“If you provide people with the information in order to really build these waste programs, that’s been the key that’s missing, this data [and that’s] where we’re helping them with that,” said Tanner Cook, CTO & Co-Founder at CleanRobotics, the creators of TrashBot. “So, it’s fundamentally a trash can that sorts waste, but it’s also a full waste audit product, as well as an educational tool.”

Speaking with Cook, I wanted to learn his thoughts on how AI is helping the industry and how TrashBot is educating individuals with empty plastic bottles all over the U.S.

With AI, the beauty of it is it can be used to perform highly repetitive trained tasks, ones that can be dull to us and difficult to learn. Also, AI, when paired with robotics, is great for doing dirty and dangerous jobs, like sorting recyclables.

“When you’re pairing a highly repetitive task with something that’s conventionally dirty, dull, and dangerous, the intersection with waste and recycling makes a ton of sense, right?” said Cook. “There’s all sorts of sharps and everything, so this is the perfect [industry] for artificial intelligence and robotics.”

Now, while AI and the waste industry seem like a match made in heaven, it may not be the most significant or crucial pairing for the industry's future. According to Cook, that distinction goes to policy and the action taken by officials nationwide.

“Some of the biggest strides that I’ve been seeing within waste management has been from the policy side. I think thoughtful polices as well as the data that we’ve been able to gather from AI, I think that’s where we’re gonna see out biggest leaps and bounds,” said Cook.”
“If we’re still making Styrofoam cups and food containers, we’re not going to move the needle very much.”

In the waste industry, the perfect pairing won’t be a pairing. Just like it takes a village to help with recycling, it will take a lot of moving parts to make a meaningful impact. 

Education is going to play a massive role in moving the needle. Companies using AI in waste are passing their findings to the user and helping them become better recyclers. With TrashBot, users receive a message to encourage them to think twice about their recycling habits the next time they use a receptacle.

“People like the warm and fuzzy feeling they get when they think they recycle something well and slapping that down is not something we want to do,” said Cook. “We want them to keep that warm and fuzzy feeling, but with a little bit more knowledge.”

That knowledge comes with precise information, which has been the most effective for the company. Using the water bottle full of water example again, which the TrashBot deals with a lot, the smart box will deliver specific information to the user on recycling water bottles and that an empty bottle is much more desirable for recycling. Using TrashBot’s screen, it can display a message and a bit of media to communicate to folks on recycling habits, rather than a sign that contains 20 different items to decipher.

“We’re really looking at the things that can generally move the needle with a specific piece of education. And since we have the screen on [TrashBot] as well, we’re able to do that very dynamically. Instead of paying $50 [or] $100 for a sign that no one’s ever going to read, we put [education] in your face and it’s immediate and it triggers and it changes,” said Cook.

TrashBot has been making headlines for its ability to be a great entry point for educating users in high-traffic areas, while being efficient in the recycling game using AI, practically tackling two considerable difficulties in the waste industry. 

For CleanRobotics has its sites on getting TrashBot overseas and into more countries, educating people worldwide, according to Cook. Over the next year or so, the company plans to produce thousands of TrashBots.

“We’ve got a lot of things in the works,” said Cook. “We’re keeping an eye on several [areas in the waste industry to innovate] and hopefully we’ll have updates here in the next year or so on what we’re pursuing there.”

About the Author(s)

Gage Edwards

Content Producer, Waste360

Gage Edwards is a Content Producer at Waste360 and seasoned video editor.

Gage has spent the better part of 10 years creating content in various industries but mostly revolving around video games.

Gage loves video games, theme parks, and loathes littering.

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