AI-enabled sorting machines keep plastic in circular economy
Published by : Industrial Automation
Unilever and the Alibaba Group have created an Al-enabled recycling system that automatically identifies and sorts plastic packaging.
January 2021 – Unilever has joined forces with the Alibaba Group to launch the country’s first large-scale closed-loop plastic recycling system.
The joint initiative – called Waste-Free World – is part of Unilever’s drive to tackle the root cause of plastic waste and think differently about packaging.
As a company we have set a goal to halve our use of virgin plastic, cut plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerate our use of recycled plastic by 2025.
The initiative is part of that drive and an active response to the Shanghai government’s plan to create a plastic packaging management system that can be used country-wide to promote a more circular economy.
The launch of Waste-Free World saw 20 recycling machines installed as part of a pilot programme in offices and community spaces in two of China’s largest cities, Shanghai and Hangzhou.
Each machine is equipped with state-of-the-art AI technology which automatically identifies different kinds of plastic bottle. All that customers need to do is to use Alipay – Alibaba’s e-wallet service – to scan the QR code displayed on the screen of the machine and then deposit the bottle into the recycling bin.
It’s as simple as that – the machine does all hard work. Using AI technology, it automatically identifies the plastic the bottle is made of, sorts it and stores it, so that it can be collected and returned to recycling centres and fast-tracked for reuse rather than degraded.
The system is proving to be a win–win for consumers looking to make more sustainable lifestyle choices and for businesses looking to reuse plastic packaging.