Recycling is incredibly important for making the most of the limited resources we have on this planet, but it’s not as simple as throwing plastic and aluminum cans in a bin. Everything we recycle has to be sorted by material, and even different types of plastic need to separated. For example, the low-density polyethylene bags from the grocery store need to be separated from the polyethylene terephthalate bottles your soda comes in. Sorting at the recycling center requires energy, which limits the efficacy of your efforts. That’s why a 17-year-old built a recycling robot for a high school project that makes sorting practical.
This project was the work of Australian high schooler Riu Fukazawa, and was shared on Twitter by his father Simon Monk. It was created as an HSC design project for school, but we could all learn something from the pragmatic approach that Fukazawa took. The robot resembles a typical trash receptacle, with a table covering two bins. Both of those bins are intended for recyclable plastics, but of different specific materials. In just about any real world setting, you can expect people to put their plastic into the wrong bin — or even to put non-recyclable trash inside. This robot takes advantage of inexpensive technology and existing information to avoid that.
The bins are covered by the tabletop, which has two cutouts to pass recyclables through. Those cutouts each have a motorized door that is closed most of the time in order to keep people from throwing just anything inside. When someone needs to recycle something, they just need to scan its barcode using the scanner built into the table. An Arduino board monitors that scanner, and opens the door that is appropriate for the scanned item. This ensures that plastics are separated by material, which ultimately makes recycling more efficient. Robots like this one would be affordable to implement in public areas like parks and shopping centers, and would likely cost much less than conventional sorting at the recycling center. The robot is even battery-powered, and could be recharged by a small solar panel to keep energy costs down.