Amazon invests in AI-powered recycling technology for MRFs

MRF robotics company Glacier has raised $7.7m in funding from Amazon and other investors to refine AI-enabled sorting technology able to identify ‘novel packaging materials’.

Amazon invests in Glacier AI sorting technologyGlacier, a US-based robotics sorting company, has announced that it has raised $7.7 million in funding from a combination of investors including Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, New Enterprise Associates and other venture capitalists. Glacier plans to allocate a significant amount of the investment towards the development of low-cost, high-performance AI-enabled robotics, which streamline the sorting of the recyclable materials and gather real-time data on the waste streams.

AI systems for recycling

Amazon is hoping to use the data gleaned from the technology to reveal actionable insights about packaging’s end-of-life journey that can be fed back to its supply chain and help the retail giant meet its Climate Pledge Fund goals. Packaging suppliers would use the information to design more recoverable packaging formats to deliver higher volumes and higher quality of post consumer recycled (PCR) packaging materials, leading the way to greater circularity. And, Amazon is as much a consumer of PCR packaging material as it is a supplier - higher volumes would reduce the costs associated with PCR, to the point at which it may even become competitive with virgin materials. Higher quality would unlock a greater range of uses.

“Amazon is always looking at new ways to innovate on behalf of our customers, and plastic packaging is no exception,” says Nick Ellis, principal of Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund. “In order to build a future where new materials can be recycled at scale, we must test options to move these materials through the recycling system. Partnering with Glacier will enable us to test the role of novel AI and robotics-based recycling technologies so that we can identify and aggregate novel packaging materials that can ultimately be recycled and repurposed.”

Rebecca Hu, co-founder of Glacier, said: “We’re excited by the progress we’ve made in the recycling industry, but to maximize Glacier’s impact on recycling, it’s essential that we work with stakeholders across the circular economy, including brands. That’s why we’re thrilled to collaborate with a sustainability leader like Amazon.”

Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund

Amazon’s investment is part of its Climate Pledge Fund and corporate venture capital fund, which earmarked $53 million for its Female Founder Initiative. Glacier is the second female-led company to receive investment from the Climate Pledge Fund, Amazon said.

Other companies that have benefited from investments from the fund include:

  • CMC Packaging Automation - a sustainable packaging technology provider, which makes systems enabling custom-fit cardboard boxes to drive out waste.
  • Genecis - a biotech company that converts organic waste into biodegradable plastics.
  • Redwood Materials - a battery recycling startup, commercialising a recycling process for end-of-life lithium batteries and e-waste.
  • Rivian - an electric vehicle manufacturer that has made more than 100,000 vehicles for Amazon’s delivery fleet.
  • Sunfire - a German company developing electrolysers for making emission-free green hydrogen using water and renewable energy. 

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