A new AI project could change the way we recycle plastic bottles

Photo credit: unilever.com

The Waste Free World project

The co-operation of two of the world's biggest consumer goods firms results in an innovative recycling project. They have created machines that use artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically identify and sort plastic packaging.

The initiative is called The Waste Free World and it was recently announced as a collaboration between Unilever and the Chinese giant Alibaba. The goal of the project is to unite the packaging technologies of the former with the business operating system of the latter to advance and ensure a highly efficient process of returning plastics back into a closed-loop recycling system.

Customer inserts bottle into a newly installed AI recycling machines in China. Image via Unilever video.

How does it work?

The customers will have to scan the QR codes of the plastic bottles before putting them into the collecting machines. By that, the AI software recognizes the type of the plastic and separate it accordingly, freeing it up to be fast-tracked for reuse at recycling centers, rather than degraded, the firms explained.

The recycling loop starts again when the already processed plastic granules are deployed in the packaging of future Unilever products. The company plans to reduce the amount of virgin plastic in its packaging by half by 2025, hoping to achieve a full reduction in its plastic use of 100,000 tons by the same date.

The project's goal

By now, twenty of the newly designed machines are operational in Shanghai and Hangzhou. In 2021, 500 more will be installed, thus, as claimed by the companies, over 500 metric tons of plastic will be collected.

Unilever coupons and Alipay rewards will be received with each bottle recycled by the new machines, thus trying to motivate changes in consumer behavior and higher rates of environmental responsibility.

"Plastic has its place, but it should not cause environmental pollution," said Rohit Jawa, Unilever's executive vice president of North Asia. "We believe Waste Free World jointly launched with Alibaba Group will become the 'green engine' of the circular economy for plastic packaging in China."

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Sources: www.greenbiz.com

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