Artificial intelligence-led MRF gains planning permission in the Midlands

City planners have approved the planning permission for a regional recycling plant in Coventry that uses artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robots.

The regional Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) will have the potential to process up to 175,000 tonnes of raw waste materials annually.

Coventry City Council has spent the last 15 months looking into various bidders and eventually settled on the equipment manufacturer, Machinex. The contact award is due to start in April, with work starting on site shortly after.

The MRF will be run by Sherbourne Recycling Limited, the wholly owned Local Authority company being set up to manage the plant.

Sherbourne Recycling is made up of eight partner councils, including Coventry City Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council and Rugby Borough Council, which are all putting money towards the construction of the new site.

Machinex’s design features 14 sorting robots and 14 optical sorters, which is projected to be the ‘most advanced of its kind within the UK’.

The process will be able to generate a throughput of 47.5 tonnes per hour of mixed dry recyclables using five manual sorters.

Grant McKelvie, Project Director and Coventry City Council Commercial Business Director, said: ‘’We are really pleased to have reached this important milestone. Machinex approached this project with a clear vision for a MRF of the future. 

“They understood our vision for a facility that will allow the project partners to effectively manage their risks in relation to their legislative responsibilities, with the confidence their recyclate is being handled in the most efficient and effective manner considering likely changes in the UK waste sector.

“We anticipate the new facility will push recycling performance in the region. This has been an exciting project to be involved in, and I look forward to seeing how it continues to develop."

Machinex’s sorting robot featured in the RWM exhibition in 2018, gaining support for its adaptability to new packaging and designs being added to the waste stream, such as the low grade plastics separation.

This new system will allow the Coventry MRF to achieve higher purity levels of recyclable materials, as well as a guarantee that it can adapt to changes in legislation and consumer habits.

‘’This will be a great achievement for Machinex; the culmination of years of research, development, and hard work in incorporating artificial intelligence at the heart of our sorting solutions.

“We will deliver the MRF of the Future - a game changer and a loud statement within the market,” commented Jonathan Ménard, Executive VP of Sales and Strategic Positioning at Machinex.

Councillor Patricia Hetherton, Cabinet Member for City Services, added: “This facility looks set to be really impressive – a real leader in the UK and in the short term it’s going to help us make sure our waste and recycling service is as efficient as it can be.

“In the long term, it’s going to enable us to raise our recycling rates. This isn’t just a short-term investment, it’s a long-term investment to ensure a greener future for our city.”

The role of AI in recycling has gained support from industry leaders such as Dr Antonio Espingardeiro, IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers member, who believes that robots are revolutionizing “dirty, dull and dangerous” jobs.