Smart waste management, an essential measure to boost the Circular Economy

by | Jul 20, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence, Blog, innovation | 0 comments

In 2019, Europe showcased the European Green Deal with the overarching aim of leading the green economy of the future. This roadmap includes a series of actions designed to promote the efficient use of resources, propose an extensive transformation of the economic model, and to shift from a linear to a Circular Economy.

According to Executive Vice-President of the European Green Deal, Timmermans, ‘the Circular Economy represents the path to achieving a competitive and climate-neutral economy of empowered consumers.’ But what does the Circular Economy involve?

The circular economy is a resource use system based on the 7Rs: Recycle, Rethink, Reduce, Re-use, Repair, Refurbish and Recover. The new model seeks to implement an economy based on the principle of “closing the life cycle” of products,. But also on producing goods, services and new business models, while reducing consumption and waste of raw materials and energy resources.

An important Circular Economy aspect is the re-use of waste as a secondary raw material as part of a virtuous circle. Where extracting raw materials also reduces waste. To ensure such change, the environmental sector in general and waste management specifically play key roles. 


Circular Economy Action Plan

The European Commission has just published its new Circular Economy Action Plan (March 2020), which proposes:

  • To ensure that less waste is produced, prioritising the reduction and re-use of materials before recycling. The Commission will pass legislation to guarantee that products sold in the EU last longer, are easier to re-use, repair and recycle. And include recycled material to the extent possible. Some actions: restrict single-use products, tackle planned obsolescence, ban the destruction of unsold durable goods (for example, clothing from no longer fashionable collections).
  • Ensure that all packaging in the EU is reusable or recyclable by 2030 by strengthening extended producer responsibility. These measures focus on resource-intensive sectors with a high potential for circularity. What means electronics and ICT, batteries and vehicles, plastic packaging, the textile sector and construction.
  • Empowering consumers. Information is power, therefore reliable information on aspects such as product reparability and durability will be promoted. Another proposal seeks to ensure consumers have a genuine “right to repair”.


Revolution is spelled with an ‘R’ for Reduce, Re-use and Recycle

Europe generates around 2.5 million tonnes of waste per year – data from 2016, the most recent available. In recent years, the European Commission has promoted various policies and regulations.  While encouraging research and innovation, in addition to investment and financing of projects and actions to support the Circular Economy.

Similarly, in Spain, a wide range of administrative, business and social initiatives have been launched, in line with the European Union. The ambitious Action Plan for the Circular Economy was put forward as early as 2015 and, more recently, the Spanish Circular Economy Strategy 2030 was approved, setting targets for this decade.

However, according to the second ‘Circular Economy in Spain’ report, carried out by the COTEC Foundation, the transition to a more sustainable production and consumption model is not progressing fast enough. The current situation continues to show low waste separation. With high levels of waste deposited in landfills – 57% of municipal waste, compared to the EU average of 25% – and low recycling rates – 33.5% in Spain against 46.5% in the EU. This is a great challenge for achieving the new objectives set by the European Union. In the medium and long term, which involve recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030 and reducing landfill to 10%.


Improve recycling, a cornerstone of the circular economy

The increase and efficiency of recycling is a fundamental, essential part of the transition towards a Circular Economy. And involves individuals and the private sector – companies and industries from different fields and sectors – and the public sector.

Waste management and recycling play a special role in the circular economy. However, it is no longer just a question of managing more waste but doing so in the best possible way. To achieve this, from the outset recycling plants have sought to automate repetitive material sorting and classification tasks, always employing workers. Nowadays, the application of Intelligence, Artificial Vision and robotics enables these same tasks to be performed, along with certain more complex jobs. Such as data collection and analysis to boost decision-making in order to enhance recycling processes, without requiring intervention from manual operators.


Intelligent robotics, a value-added investment

In recent years, recycling plants have been backing intelligent robotics, which enables waste to be sorted in an enhanced, higher quality manner. Using smart robots not only adds environmental benefits, facilitating recycling to give products a second life, which would otherwise end up in a landfill, but also means economic savings for the different actors involved in the recycling chain (collection companies, recyclers, local governments, etc.).

Paradoxically, despite the initial investment involved in implementing intelligent robots in the plants, the payback period for installing this type of unit is between 2 and 3 years, so the economic benefit to the plants is clear.

PICVISA’s 15 years of recycling sector experience mean that our first intelligent robotic unit is designed to boost productivity in this sector. ECOPICK is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) based robot that recognises and classifies a wide range of objects on a conveyor belt, replacing the tasks usually performed by a manual worker. Its waste sorting tasks involve carrying out material quality control, and automated extraction of recoverable materials contained in the “rejects” flow taken to the cabin via a conveyor belt.

At PICVISA, we are proud to promote technological innovations to improve plastic and glass recycling and extend the product life as many times as possible, infinitely for glass. Our mission is to design, develop and produce sorting and recovery equipment for materials that can be recycled or reused.

ECOGLASS and ECOPACK optical separators and the intelligent ECOPICK robot are essential solutions for improving productivity at any modern recycling plant.

Our activity seeks to help the countries we operate in nationally and internationally to achieve the goals set by the European Commission and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDA) established by the United Nations.

If you want to know more about any of our solutions, please contact us.


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