Artificial intelligence in the future of waste management

In today’s consumerist economy, and an era of millennial convenience, not only is landfill waste increasing GHG emissions and contributing to climate change, it is also costing corporations and public institutions tens of thousands of dollars in hauling, disposal and auditing fees.  Even the most innovative zero waste initiatives divert only up to 70% of landfill waste.

Hassan Murad was inspired to take a keen look at inefficiencies associated with sorting waste at the source after his girlfriend pointed out error in how he was recycling.  The next day, he went to work with fellow SFU Mechatronic Systems Engineering undergraduate Vivek Vyas by interviewing first year students, graduate students, PhDs, professors, and the public to understand why people are allowing their organics and recyclables to end up in the landfill, emitting methane gas, contaminating water sources, and creating costly waste management and auditing fees.

When it comes to eliminating waste, and the hefty costs associated with it, they found that the problem lies in the sorting.  Murad shares, “More than 70% of people said the biggest challenge they have in waste sorting is not knowing where the item should go, but the time associated with it.”

“The problem isn’t in education;” Vyas chimes in, “it’s a behavioral thing.” Tackling a solution for both the environment and businesses, Murad and Vyas co-created an automated waste sorting bin that uses artificial intelligence to sort waste items into proper streams.

Their machine technology, which was accepted into NextAI and presented to Prime Minister Trudeau during his 2016 visit to SFU Surrey Campus for a major sustainability funding announcement, can reduce up to 90% landfill waste within a controlled environment, an estimated translation of 30-40% savings in hauling and 100% in auditing fees, with total annual savings of up to $60,000.

“Though it may seem like a small thing, this simple behavioral error on the people’s part has very far reaching impacts on both the environment and in business operations costs,” shares Vyas. “No matter how much you educate the public, the problem will continue to exist until this part of disposal is automated."  

A typical use scenario would be for one to just walk up to the smart bin and throw away a waste item like a pop can.  The AI system would then be able to look at what you’d thrown away and put it into the correct waste stream.  As AI systems advance the more they are used, the performance will only improve over time.  What’s more, the technology would also eliminate the need for paid waste audits, because the AI would produce real-time reports on an ongoing basis.  “In other words,” explains Vyas, “to be successful in waste elimination, we need to let the bin do the thinking.”

Murad and Vyas are currently accepting interested businesses to partner with them in developing the mechanical enclosure for the technology to route the items into the bins and take it to the piloting stage. Murad illustrates, “the goal with this bin is to have 100% diversion rate: everything will be sorted instead of going to a landfill, helping both the environment and business to win.”

To support Hassan and Vivek, visit Intuitive Robotics.

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