SWEEEP Kuusakoski and Recycleye implement AI in sorting e-waste

Firms have announced the first successful commercial application of computer vision machine learning for sorting Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in the UK, marking a new application of artificial intelligence (AI) in waste management.

SWEEEP Kuusakoski and Recycleye have jointly announced a significant development in waste management technology with the first successful commercial application of AI computer vision in the sorting of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment in the UK. This implementation introduces artificial intelligence for automated sorting of WEEE and associated metals. 

Recycleye computer vision technology used to sort e-waste
The two companies have collaborated to deploy an optical sorter that integrates AI and machine learning to sort e-waste for recycling at SWEEEP’s facility, demonstrating the potential to apply the technology beyond Recycle's initial application of it for sorting dry recyclables in materials recycling facilities.

Traditional optical sorters in waste facilities typically utilise pneumatic ejection. However, the integration of AI technology, as opposed to Near-Infrared (NIR) technology, represents a novel application. AI detection employs a range of visual features similar to the human eye, moving beyond the limitations of colour and light-based sensors.

This advancement enables more precise identification of various materials within WEEE. For instance, the technology can distinguish Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) from other metals and plastics, enhancing the recovery of precious metals. Historically, identifying PCBs, especially when fragmented, has been challenging for optical sorters, but AI-powered ejection provides metal recyclers like SWEEEP with new capabilities.

The AI technology's ability to detect and eject batteries based on visual features is also notable. Batteries, due to their multi-material composition, are typically difficult to detect using NIR and often require manual sorting. The AI system's ability to recognise these batteries reduces the risk of ignition during the recycling process.

Recycleye’s AI-powered optical sorter is installed at the back-end of SWEEEP’s facility in Sittingbourne. It functions by sorting between higher-value items containing precious metals — such as copper, PCBs, cables, and brass — and lower-value materials like aluminium, plastics, steel, ferrous metals, and batteries. By ejecting lower-value materials through AI-powered detection, the system enhances the purity of SWEEEP's valuable waste streams.

Barry Walker, Chief Executive Officer of SWEEEP Kuusakoski, stated: "This innovation will not only increase the value of our material output, but also safeguard our staff and facilities as the AI vision operates 24/7 to detect batteries. As one of the UK’s leading electrical equipment collection and recycling specialists, we are confident that the additional purity this investment achieves will enable us to supply even greater volumes of low carbon and resource-efficient raw materials back into the circular economy."

Zoe Cook, Technical Sales Manager (UK) at Recycleye, commented: "This is an important milestone for the use of our AI and sorting technology. This successful application in the sorting of WEEE demonstrates that AI-powered sorting automation can be utilised to tackle even more waste categories, due to the flexibility to adapt machine learning models to different streams."

The implementation at SWEEEP’s site is the first instance where Recycleye has combined its AI technology with an air jet system. This collaboration represents the initial step by these companies in evaluating the impact of AI on WEEE sorting.

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