ai vision with pp
Photo courtesy of Amp Robotics

Amp Robotics test facility to explore expanded use of its technology

Recycling rates and brands’ use of postconsumer recycled materials could increase with the help of artificial intelligence and industry collaboration, the company says.

December 11, 2020

Amp Robotics Corp., a Denver-based supplier of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, says it is extending its ability to identify and pick recyclables at the brand level by working with consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. The company also has opened a new test facility to explore expanded applications of its technology.

The goal of the new 40,000-square-foot test facility in Colorado is to increase recycled feedstock available to CPGs and container producers. This facility will help prototype new, economical ways to ensure recyclables are recovered and recycled, even for low volumes that historically have not been economical for recovery, the company says. By lowering the cost of recycling marginal volumes, Amp says it seeks to maximize resource recovery and quality for the manufacturing supply chain.

One of Amp’s first corporate partners is Keurig Dr Pepper (KDP). Following KDP’s conversion of its coffee pods to polypropylene (PP), the companies worked together to equip Amp’s robotics systems to properly identify and sort these K-Cup pods in material recovery facilities (MRFs).

Monique Oxender, chief sustainability officer at KDP, says, “Our move to recyclable plastic is a critical first step; but, to make greater strides toward circularity, we need to improve acceptance and sortation so we can more readily incorporate recycled plastic back into our products and packaging. Recycling systems in the U.S. are diverse, and we need technology and infrastructure upgrades to improve the quality and quantity of recycled plastic available.”

Amp’s technology is designed to help address this challenge. The AI platform that guides the company’s robotics systems can differentiate objects found in the material stream by color, size, shape, opacity, brand and more, according to the company, contextualizing and storing information about each item it perceives. AI and machine learning enable the robotic sorting of material as granular as a type of plastic at a pick rate of upwards of 80 items per minute—more than two times as fast as human sorters, and with greater accuracy and consistency, Amp says.

The company adds that its AI platform are designed to become smarter and more effective over time as Amp deploys more robots. Amp says it can add “limitless subcategories of brand-level material” to meet market demand, which can then be distributed to identify and sort this material across its fleet of robots that are deployed at MRFs and at plastic reclaimers. 

“Intelligent plastics sortation, powered by AI, robotics and advanced data analytics, can have cross-value chain impact and direct benefits to plastic waste generators, sorting facilities, recyclers and consumer packaged goods companies,” says Rob Writz, director of business development for Amp Robotics. “AI-guided sortation ensures a higher-quality end product that isn’t contaminated by other materials and a larger volume of recycled material. Collaboration across the recycling value chain will turn product and packaging waste back into the inputs for future manufacturing while growing and strengthening our recycling system.” 

In July, The Recycling Partnership launched the Polypropylene Recycling Coalition to improve PP recovery and recycling in the United States and further develop the end market for this material. The Coalition announced the first four MRFs to receive grants to fund improved sortation of PP through the use of technology like Amp’s robotics systems and to support targeted consumer education efforts. KDP is a founding member of the coalition and its largest funder. The coalition’s investments are intended to widen total nationwide acceptance of PP in curbside recycling programs by approximately 1.7 percent to an additional 4 million people, resulting in the recovery of a larger supply of PP that could be made into new products. 

“Investing in ways that amplify our individual actions will enable us to truly drive progress in eliminating packaging waste by improving recycling infrastructure and enhancing consumer education efforts, both of which will increase the recovery of valuable plastics,” Oxender says.