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Enhancing Recycling with an AI-Powered Reverse Vending Machine

reverse vending machine automatic recycling sorter

When it comes to recycling, the world could do better. Despite the increasing need to reduce global carbon emissions and pollution, and the push towards the recycling of waste, obstacles remain. Actual recycling rates for bottles are relatively low at about 32% of glass bottles worldwide. They’re even less for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles, which are the plastic bottles you see with the number “1” on the bottom.

The reverse vending machine (RVM) is one solution to this global issue. Through technology and convenience, RVMs attempt to enhance the efficiency of waste sorting and incentivize people to recycle more often.

What Is a Reverse Vending Machine?

RVMs are a little different than traditional vending machines. You already know the traditional version, where you pay money into the machine through currency and receive a product—like a bottle of cold soda—in return.

A reverse vending machine works just like it sounds. You insert a used or empty bottle into the RVM and receive a reward like money, coupons, or other incentives in exchange.

The first reverse vending machine prototype was invented in 1972. Since then, countries around the world have increasingly adopted strategies and policies around recycling and sustainability, and RVMs have grown in popularity and use. RVMs are now spread across the globe in countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and Russia. You may have seen a version or two at your local grocery or liquor store.

Artificial Intelligence Enhancing New RVMs

The makers of reverse vending machines are turning to new technologies to enhance their global impact. Some manufacturers are now using artificial intelligence (AI) to extend the capabilities of their RVMs. A Thai eco-friendly startup called Sustaintech is leveraging AI in its new RVM, called CircularOne. Its name recalls the concept of the circular economy, a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, reusing, and recycling existing materials and products for as long as possible.

According to data from the World Bank Group, Thailand ranked sixth among countries responsible for plastic pollution in the ocean or other marine environments. Of the 3.49 million tons of plastic it consumes yearly, Thailand recycled 616,000 tons—an equivalent to only 17.6%. The AI-enabled CircularOne will contribute to sustainability efforts in Thailand and other countries, reducing the amount of landfill waste and raising recycling rates.

How It Works

CircularOne is an automatic recycling sorter that uses AI-based photo recognition to automatically check the material quality and sort the containers, including glass bottles, aluminum cans, and PET bottles. Through AI, CircularOne can scan each container’s barcode, classify and separate containers, and identify cans or bottles that still have residual liquid inside.

Depending on the location and model, CircularOne then rewards the depositor with incentives like vouchers, digital tokens for future purchases, or options to contribute to charity. Stores or organizations that place a CircularOne within their facility can also customize the machine to match the store’s design and branding, and to offer relevant store rewards.

Driving Insights with Data Analytics

Through a partnership with Tencent Cloud, Sustaintech’s AI recycling platform will also generate and analyze data regarding the types of materials deposited in the RVM. CircularOne can detect and isolate damaged or broken bottles, for example, and send efficient notifications to users or owners.

CircularOne’s data can be monitored remotely and includes insights about the daily collection status of container types, deposit time stamps, deposit quantity and monetary value, and management of redeemed rewards. CircularOne can also perform service monitoring around network connectivity and payment status.

Expanding in Your Community

CircularOne is just one example of reverse vending machines that are revolutionizing the recycling industry through AI. The market for reverse vending machines is expected to grow from $343.6 million in 2018 to over $685.1 million by 2025. You’re likely to see more RVMs in your local stores as countries continue to innovate new waste management strategies and initiatives.

By offering incentives for recycling and making the container recycling process more efficient, solutions like CircularOne can help raise recycling rates. The growing presence of reverse vending machines in our communities can also help us keep recycling top of mind and encourage consumers to contribute to the sustainability of our planet.

By evee Life Contributor

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