Robotic recycling introduced at Casella Rutland site

Published: Feb. 20, 2023 at 4:26 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Robots handling recycling might sound like the way of the future, but Casella is giving it a go, now. The waste company is piloting artificial intelligence into the waste stream in Rutland.

Casella’s single-stream recycling operation in Rutland moves a lot of recyclables, but some added hands are making for lighter work.

“Higher quality and more material going out the door,” said Jeff Weld with Casella. “We are seeing some really impressive performance.”

Casella is implementing three robotic arms into their recycling stream to boost the efficiency of their plastics sorting. “These robots work around plastics -- so, PET, your water bottle-type plastics primarily. and then polypropylene -- so, lids, yogurt containers, things like that,” Weld said.

After the plastics have passed by employees sorting what they can, the conveyer belt takes them under a camera where each arm is programmed to a different type of plastic. If the robot identifies the plastic it is looking for, it grabs it and throws it into the correct bin, all while learning how to be more efficient. “It goes through the next one. That robot is doing the same thing, So, by the time it gets through the end results, that robot has cleaned the stream significantly,” Weld said.

The robot can sort between 60 and 80 plastics a minute, on pace with a person -- if not faster -- and costs a few hundred thousand dollars -- but they don’t replace people, just take some of the workload off. “If you are thinking about a person sorting through things, it’s arduous, it’s hard work,” Weld said.

Brittany LaValley is with the Recycling Partnership, which promotes recycling technology.

Reporter Kevin Gaiss: Is this sort of technology the future of the recycling stream?

Brittany LaValley: Robotics are certainly here to stay and it’s part of the future.

LaValley says getting this tech into facilities increases efficiency, which is critical, especially in the face of labor shortages and increasing amounts of material. “It’s kind of the perfect storm of things right now that are bringing the value of this type of technology to a head,” she said.

Back in Rutland, Weld says the machines will only get faster to get the material out the door. “How can we become more efficient, how can we produce a cleaner and better material to then send back to the end markets that we provide material to and put that material to a higher, better use,” Weld said.