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Recycling Right with RoboBin!

By Larraine Roulston:

In May, 65 universities from 9 countries entered the Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler (KPMG) second annual Ideation Challenge competition designed to develop solutions to problems facing businesses. RoboBin, an invention which addresses the dilemma some people face when discarding items into public recycling containers, won first prize over 600 applicants in this worldwide competition.

Ontario considers ban on throwing organic waste into the trash by looking for ways to eliminate unwanted food as well as yard trimmings from entering landfill sites. RoboBin, created  by a team of five University of Toronto (U of T) students, not only directs food cores/peelings and half-eaten lunches for composting, but also separates recyclables from garbage.

Many Canadians are recycling wrong, and it’s costing us millions is a statement regarding residential blue box recycling. When creating their prototype, the team was mindful of this information and became confident that their invention would help save the city money.

With help from the RoboBin’s artificial intelligence (AI) system, recycling will become easier for people when tossing a soda can or apple core into a container, with various options. The U of T students claim the invention will reduce the amount that currently leads to a quarter of Toronto’s recyclables from becoming contaminated.

The CEO of Paramount AI, the company they created, Nikunj Viramgama, said, “One in three citizens contaminate their recycling waste …  Even if you make an educated guess, we go wrong all the time.”

Al, the powered system, uses photos to sort what is deposited. Paramount Al’s CTO, Vaibhav Gupta, says that they uploaded over 35,000 images to train the system to identify the differences among garbage, recyclables and organics. “So what it is doing is basically analyzing each and every pixel separately and then [RoboBin] finds out what’s the best description for the content.” When people deposit an object, they push a button. The system then scans the item before mechanically moving it into the correct bin and basically eliminating the users’ guesswork. Viramgama states that they created the prototype to be an accessory to the containers in order to reduce costs. The bins do not have to be replaced.

KPMG Ideation Challenge judge, Anthony Coops, was convinced the AI concept had good merit and stated, “This team in particular brought to life the business case for their idea by talking about the number of bins at a theme park and the amount of waste that is then generated.” 

Viramgama concluded, “We want to save the environment as well as create a business model.” The team is now planning to implement the system in their neighborhoods in order to determine whether it is “feasible and scalable.” If so, Paramount AI will approach the City of Toronto.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where many people either cannot understand how or do not take the time to discard resources correctly. Luckily, enterprising youth are front and center with solutions.

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Larraine writes children’s illustrated adventure books on composting and pollinating. To view, visit: www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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