Sort It Out: TrashBot, a Smart Bin developed by CleanRobotics, uses AI to help improve waste management.

Have you ever found yourself facing a trashcan, confused about whether or not you can toss a particular item in it? You are not alone. A Pittsburgh-based startup is working to help tackle this global challenge!

Landfill Waste Disposal practices are a big issue that keeps growing. Source: Katestone.

Much has been discussed and advised in terms of recycling policies. And governments all over the world have incentivized local business to implement waste management solutions. But at the same time, over so many different bins, locations and types of materials, recycling has a bunch of tricky rules most users struggle to understand, specially in a new environment. The results? A huge global problem as waste management companies face more and more bottlenecks to make sure all busy urban users follow strict waste separation rules. Most of us make common recycling mistakes, sometimes out of misconceptions, even with the best intentions.

According to The Guardian, recently conducted poll has revealed that British consumers are out of the loop about exactly what household waste they can recycle. Same goes for Australia: 48% of Aussies struggle to figure out what can and cannot be recycled, and many mistakenly throw away materials that could be recycled.

Reasons why Americans don’t recycle. Credits by GOOD.

Every time we throw an item into the wrong bin, we can mess up a whole batch of recycling. At best, it will cost extra time and money spent removing it at a sorting facility. At worst, wrongly identified items can contaminate a load of useful recyclables, causing a even worse waste of resources. Even a spoonful of peanut butter left in a jar can contaminate a ton of recyclable paper and render it useless. This is how we contribute to the growing amount of recycling materials daily rejected at waste management centers, costing recycling programs millions of dollars every year.

Approximately 25% of all recycling picked up by Waste Management is contaminated to the point that it is sent to landfills, points out data published by the NY Times.

The world’s first smart waste bin is being developed in Pittsburgh, PA. CleanRobotics, its creator, is tackling global waste problems by using TrashBot, an intelligent trash can that automatically separates landfill waste from recyclables. The startup was incubated at AlphaLab Gear, part of the growing IoT ecosystem in the area, and already supported by HAX, the world’s largest hardware startup accelerator.

A seed investment by Makers Boot Camp with hands-on support will hopefully help their product reach the market successfully, in order to implement a new solution for the waste management across the world.

TrashBot booth at the Thrival Innovation Festival. Photo: CleanRobotics Facebook

By using machine learning, computer vision, and a network of sensors, TrashBot helps to reduce wastes, in an ecologically friendly environment and lessen sanitation workers’ burden. If there is any change in the community’s recycling program, its software can be wirelessly updated to match new preferences. CleanRobotics developers estimates that a single TrashBot has the potential to replace several conventional trash + recycling bins currently in use.

How does TrashBot system work?

  1. Once you place a garbage into the TrashBot single opening, cameras and sensors quickly analyze the type of discarded item.
  2. The item is weighted on a Teflon-coated plastic shelf and liquids are drained if any.
  3. CleanRobotics software decided whether the item is destined for the landfill or recycling facility and sends it into the appropriate bin below.

TrashBot swallows garbage at the speed of around three seconds per item, with 90% sorting accuracy rate, and continuously learns to recognize new types of trash. In the future, it will have LEDs to confirm to users whether an item is recyclable or not. CleanRobotics engineers are also considering displaying such feedback on the monitor, since users tend to toss a garbage into the opening and then look expectantly at the screen.

Clean Robotics started in 2015 at AlphaLab Gear startup accelerator and built their TrashBot prototype with HAX in Shenzhen. Photo: CleanRobotics Facebook

Due to the great capacity, TrashBot can be deployed at airports, malls, stadiums, office buildings and other businesses that handle large quantities of garbage.

CleanRobotics has already tested a smart bin prototype at the Vicinity Centre, one of the largest mall operators in Australia, Pittsburgh International Airport, David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh and continues to develop new product prototypes for iterations on waste management.

A smart bin placed in public areas could also serve as a great solution for highly populated urban areas, as it is the case for Japan, which is heavily investing in efficient garbage disposal mechanisms. Tokyo alone, a city of over 20M inhabitants, must implement efficient recycling systems, as shown by The Japan Times.

Source: The Japan Times. Photos by TIM HORNYAK.

In Japan, specifically, detailed and sometimes complex garbage segregation rules often confuses not only foreigners, but also locals moving to another municipality. Unaware of the appropriate bins, users often toss the garbage into the wrong bin and unconsciously contribute to the mismatch in the garbage sorting. In the meantime, CleanRobotics solution can combine user experience and new technology to figure out how to minimize waste rejection — while turning it into a profitable business.

We’re looking forward to supporting CleanRobotics team with their next business & prototype challenges!

Are you also a hardware startup tackling real world problems? Drop us a message. We can help you Make It in Japan!