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How far off reality is AI for the waste and recycling industry?

A recent report by auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has claimed that nearly a third of existing British jobs are at risk of being taken over by robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) within 15 years.

The report suggests that as many as 30% of existing roles in the UK could be automated by 2030 with the most at risk industries being waste management, transportation and manufacturing. In fact, jobs in the waste management industry face a 62.6% chance of being automated, according to PwC, and the waste management sector exhibits the highest level of risk to jobs as a result of automation.

Understandably this may worry people who are employed in waste management and fear the impact that some faceless AI, lurking in the shadows, may have on their career.

Here at Casepak, we already have one of the best examples of a modern Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in the UK. The MRF process is highly automated and efficient, while combining manual intervention when required throughout the sorting process.

Indeed, our MRF contains technology that wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a science fiction movie! From electro-magnets that recover tins and cans, to eddy current separators which sort aluminium, and optical sorters to separate and recover the many different types of plastic in circulation, Casepak’s carefully designed and constructed MRF ensures maximum functionality to produce high quality results on a continuous and on-going basis.

Automation may be key to our success, but so too are our dedicated members of staff. Although manual intervention is minimised, there are still areas of the MRF process which require human supervision and oversight. For example, recyclates entering the MRF first pass through a Pre-Sort Cabin where fully trained quality inspectors remove any oversized general waste materials and recover target materials such as plastic film. At a later stage, the Quality Inspection Cabin combines manual inspection and optical sorting technology to remove and recover any non-target materials.

Finally, our processing facility includes the most modern and advanced human/machine interfaces, ensuring that we have a continuous supply of management information to remain flexible, efficient and identify areas for further improvement.

While a high degree of automation is essential for the efficient running of the MRF, there is no substitute for human oversight at certain key stages. Perhaps technology may be developed one day that can replace the human role in sorting and quality checking, but AI systems that could do so as quickly, efficiently and accurately as a trained human being are hard to imagine.