Artificial Intelligence put to use in Recycling

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Electronic waste is the most rapidly growing stream of discarded material in the world. Now a Swedish company has developed a commercially deployed solution for classification, sorting and gathering of information from used electronic products. At this moment it is said to be unique in the world.

The company in question is named Refind Technologies and is located in the Swedish city Gothenburg. This actor is targeting a widespread need in the recycling industry, namely to cut costs and enhance stability where it comes to processes of sorting and classifying electronic waste. The more data one can gather about used and discarded products, the higher becomes the value.

Refind’s systems are based on what in artificial intelligence terminology is labelled “Deep Learning”, which makes it possible for the system to distinguish between products or models of products which at a glance appears largely similar. The software is combined with optical and mechanical systems which sort the electronic items according to content and what materials one could extract from them.

This November, the first industrial equipment was commercially deployed. The task is to sort mobile phones and the solution currently sorts 2000 phones per hour, though the target is to categorize and sort one phone per second in the close future. In this case there are two possibilities, either the material is reused or the phones go to the second hand market. The material value in each phone is estimated to be only 1-2 dollars, whereas 5-10 year old phones can go back to the market for tens of dollars. Thus, each phone ends up exactly where it should be in accordance with its intrinsic value.

The presently active mobile phone solution is just the first of many application areas being explored. The company claims that “these scalable systems can be applied to basically any stream of returned or collected products”. Solutions have already been designed for the sorting of batteries, lamps, circuit boards and small electronics.

In Sweden, Circular Economy proponents are already cherishing the technology and the company. We agree that the solutions are undoubtedly impressive and hope for the company and potential early followers to make a real impact in our waste filled world as soon as possible.

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