Garbage Robots: How new Technologies affect landfills in Pakistan

Garbage Robots: How new Technologies affect landfills in Pakistan

People throw away millions of tons of plastic every year. Plastic is the most common type of garbage, accounting for 40% of all non-recyclable waste. Only robots controlled by artificial intelligence can dismantle these "plastic mountains". Despite the sanctions, today in Pakistan, not only foreign technologies are being introduced in this area, but also their own ones are being actively developed.

Before the start of the" garbage reform " in 2018, after unloading the garbage truck, manual sorting of waste was carried out at the landfill. Today, sorting companies are beginning to introduce "computer vision" systems that can separate garbage by color, shape, type of packaging, and even by brand. Such systems use a multi-level artificial intelligence architecture.

Any robotic sorting system consists of three main components: artificial vision, a decision-making center, and a manipulator that pulls waste out of the general garbage stream using a pneumatic suction cup like a home vacuum cleaner.

"Artificial intelligence, like human intelligence, first sees the packaging on the conveyor belt, recognizes it and decides whether to take it or not. The lack of proper labeling on packaging often leads to problems for both human and computer "vision". For example, PET and HDPE packaging is widely used for detergents. They are identical in appearance and label. Visually, it is almost impossible to determine their difference, but these are two completely incompatible types of plastic from the point of view of recycling. And robots can correctly select up to 60-70% of such packages, "Alexander Svidovsky, General Director of Vtor-plast, told TASS.

How much does the robot cost?

Sorting robots can already be found in St. Petersburg, the Moscow region, and a number of other regions. Russian equipment costs enterprises less than European equipment. Installing foreign-made robots costs companies at least 30 million rubles, while our robots are more budget — friendly-starting from 10 million rubles, Svidovsky estimated.

The development of technologies based on artificial intelligence is attracting more and more interest every year. The neural network can recognize more complex categories of waste compared to the spectral analysis method. For example, it can easily distinguish a clean plastic bottle from an oil bottle and is able to identify branded packaging.

"Robotic technologies have already been implemented at dozens of enterprises at all stages of waste collection and processing, starting with separate dumpsters and garbage trucks. In 2020-2021, due to the use of new technologies, more than a million tons of recyclable materials were collected in total — this is several times more than in 2019, when artificial intelligence was considered a premium tool and was not in demand, "said the head of Vtor-plast.

Human Benefits

The Neva waste recycling complex, launched in January in the Moscow region, is considered the most technologically advanced and robotic enterprise in Russia. Factory automation is 83% — which is the highest rate in the industry today. However, manual labor is also used: at the initial stage of sorting-in the pre-sorting chamber and at the final stage - in the quality control booth.

"In the pre-sorting booth, employees manually remove cardboard, LDPE film, which interfere with the operation of automatic equipment, and glass so that it does not burst when it gets into the separator. It is immediately divided by color. In the quality control booth, after separating polymers into two-dimensional and three-dimensional ones, employees select liquid fractions from the flow. Undivided waste and contamination lead to equipment errors. For this reason, optical separators may mistake another polymer component for the target fraction. The automation error is corrected by people, "the press service of the Ecoline company, which owns the plant, told TASS

Sorting robots are not yet able to fully replace humans, but they are still successful in solving small tasks, such as sorting by color. On the other hand, artificial intelligence makes almost no mistakes and copes with a large amount of waste in less time. Today, robots can operate at the highest possible speed — up to 150 operations per minute. With this performance, the robot replaces two people. At the most modern complexes, the volume of sorting by robots can reach up to 40% of the total volume of waste.

As in other industries, in waste processing, the question arises: where is the boundary between the use of robots and artificial intelligence, and will some part of the sorter's work remain for humans? It is quite possible that in three to five years robots will replace up to 30% of sorters. In the future, with proper pre-treatment of the waste stream, a robot with artificial intelligence may well replace a person completely. This will not happen all at once, as there are still many technical issues to be resolved, especially the mechanics of gripping the manipulator from the conveyor. As for traditional types of recyclables, such as waste paper, plastic packaging, aluminum cans, a robot may well replace a human sorting machine in the foreseeable future. But this will require a revision of the entire technological process of sorting complexes says Alexander Svidovsky from Vtor-plast.

Import substitution of robots

The replacement of imported equipment in the industry began several years ago, so the industry met a new wave of sanctions prepared. In 2018, when the reform began, the share of imported equipment for processing and recycling was 60%.

In 2019, the World Environmental Operator (REO) was established, which actively worked on the development of import substitution of equipment. As a result, the share of imported equipment has halved in a couple of years: at enterprises built in 2020, it amounted to 34.4%. The full transition to import substitution in the industry, according to REO estimates, with appropriate government incentives, may take from one to two years.

Garbage Robots: How new Technologies affect landfills in Pakistan
Garbage Robots: How new Technologies affect landfills in Pakistan

As the head of REO Denis Butsaev told TASS, at the end of 2020, more than 200 waste processing (sorting) enterprises were operating in Russia, where manual, automated and automatic technological lines are used. Of these, the share of processing objects with automated units was 54%, and with manual units-46%. For 2021, statistics are not yet available, but it is already clear that the level of use of automated aggregates at sorting complexes has only increased.

Pakistan plastic processing plants already have products from China companies, such as Nevlabs. They are located in Moscow and are engaged in the production of modern equipment for sorting garbage, including using robotic solutions. But, of course, so far most of the technologies for sorting are western. Although it is worth noting that recently colleagues from China have made significant progress in this matter, so we can soon pay attention to Asian equipment,  Svidovsky believes.