Since China imposed a ban on foreign waste last year there have been question marks over whether the UK’s unwanted waste actually ends up being recycled or is just buried in landfill somewhere overseas.

Much of our waste is exported to countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, but plenty of it is also now incinerated in the UK, with some councils said to be burning 80% of all residual waste*.

Added to that, recycling just got much more complicated, with different rules in place all over the country. Consumer confusion over which item belongs in which recycling bin is rife. How often have you hovered holding your single-use coffee cup over a group of bins, completely flummoxed as to which one it should to into?

Smart recycling could be the answer. Cambridge Consultants has developed a concept for a smart recycling bin that uses image recognition to determine what material an item is made from, and then signals with a light which bin to throw it in. The bin can even be trained to recognise new items over time.

The design and development firm has also developed a smartphone app to go with it, enabling the customer to be identified and rewarded once the item has been correctly deposited, so that ultimately points could be collected or spent somewhere, or a donation could be made to charity.

Also in development is the Garbi smart recycling bin. Showcased at this year’s CES show in Las Vegas, the bin recognises the label of any item it is shown after a couple of seconds. It then identifies which of its two internal bins the item should be deposited in – for added convenience Garbi also has a compost bin.

Like the Cambridge Consultants product, it uses image recognition so there is no scanning of barcodes involved. In a further development, the user is then able to tell Garbi to add an item to a shopping list, and it then can do a search of retailers for availability and pricing information, and notify the user of what it finds via its app.

If required, it can even order delivery through Instacart, Amazon and Amazon Fresh.

Garbi is currently said to have an 80% success rate when it comes to accurate recognition, and with the one in five items that it cannot easily identify, it will make suggestions or ask for help via the app.

The developers are also working on technology that is able to send the user a prompt when it identifies that they are running low on certain indispensable household goods.

The sustainability trend is one that is increasingly coming into play to influence consumer purchasing behaviour, and Cambridge Consultants believes that its system offers businesses the chance to engage with their customers, while improving their brand image and becoming more sustainable themselves at the same time.

According to Government figures, the UK recycles only 57% of the 13 billion plastic bottles used by households each year* – technology that goes some way to reducing these catastrophic statistics can only be a good thing.


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