Carton Council funds project to sort cartons with robots

Carton Council funds project to sort cartons with robots

Project at Denver-based Alpine Waste & Recycling uses artificial intelligence to identify, grab and separate food and beverage cartons.

The Carton Council of North America has announced it has been conducting a pilot program that uses artificial intelligence to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of carton recycling at Alpine Waste & Recycling, Denver.

AMP Robotics and Alpine Waste & Recycling, through a collaboration led by the Carton Council, have used a robotic system to identify the wide variety of food and beverage cartons and grab and separate them from the recycling stream. The AMP Cortex, nicknamed “Clarke” after the sci-fi author and futurist Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, has spider-like arms with specially designed grippers to pick up and separate cartons at a materials recovery facility (MRF). Clarke was installed at Alpine Waste & Recycling in late 2016 and, through fine-tuning and adjustments, has achieved a pickup rate of 60 cartons per minute. This is a considerable increase from the human average of 40 picks per minute, according to the Carton Council of North America. 

“Clarke greatly expands opportunities for the carton industry as we work to increase the efficiency of carton recycling and, ultimately, divert more cartons from landfills,’’ says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, for Tetra Pak cluster Americas. “Everything Clarke has learned about identifying cartons can be transferred to robots at other MRFs. We are excited to bring innovation to carton recycling and believe this technology has widespread implications for the recycling industry, as it can be adapted to other materials.’’

“Clarke provides a new and exciting approach to sorting recyclables. Currently there is nothing out there that does what this system does,” says Matanya Horowitz, founder of AMP Robotics in Denver. “Clarke can be a cost-effective way for facilities to introduce new packaging that does not always have a large volume. Additionally, unique grippers can be developed to identify and pick contaminants, which is one of the biggest issues our industry currently faces.”

Brent Hildebrand, vice president of recycling at Alpine, adds, “At Alpine, we’re always looking at innovative ways to divert waste from landfills while making recycling programs more cost-effective. We recognized this opportunity with the Carton Council and AMP Robotics as a way to contribute toward methods that might encourage people to recycle more. We are extremely impressed with the advances Clarke has already made.” 

A grant from the Carton Council made this project possible. The Carton Council and AMP Robotics say they hope to duplicate the success of Clarke at other MRFs as an innovative, cost-effective, long-term solution to sort cartons. 

The Carton Council formed in 2009 to expand carton recycling nationwide by building an infrastructure for recycling aseptic and gable-top cartons used for many common food and beverage products. It is composed of four carton manufacturers: Elopak, SIG Combibloc, Evergreen Packaging and Tetra Pak, as well as an associate member, Nippon Dynawave Packaging. 

AMP Robotics, Denver, develops robotic systems for the recycling industry.

Alpine Waste & Recycling is the largest privately held commercial waste, recycling and compost collection company in Colorado. Founded in 1999 as a single-truck operation, the company has parlayed a customer-service and sustainability focus into a compound annual revenue growth rate of greater than 35 percent. With more than 80 trucks and more than 200 employees, Alpine handles more than 300,000 tons of waste and recycling products per year.