Ramsey and Washington counties are pioneering the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics in their new high-tech composting program. Residents now have the convenience of tossing compost in the same trash bin, with AI and robotic arms sorting it for composting.
AI and robotics revolutionize composting
Gone are the days when residents of Ramsey and Washington counties had to sort their compost separately. Now, thanks to the new Food Scraps Pickup Program, they can toss their compost right into the trash. How is it sorted? Artificial intelligence and robotic arms at the county waste facilities do the job. These high-tech tools are trained to identify special compost bags among the regular trash, allowing for seamless composting without the hassle of separate collection.
From trash to compost: AI in action
The AI system at the Recycling & Energy Center in Newport has been programmed to recognize food scrap bags by their unique color and size. As trash moves along the conveyor belt at a brisk 73 feet per minute, the AI scans and identifies these compost bags. Then, a robotic arm swings into action, deftly grabbing the compost bags and separating them from other waste items. While the technology might occasionally misidentify bags, the system is constantly learning and improving its accuracy.
Co-collection model offers multiple benefits
Unlike other regions where waste and compost are collected separately, Ramsey and Washington counties have adopted a co-collection model. In this system, residents put their food scrap bags and regular trash together in the same bin. This not only simplifies the process for residents and waste haulers but also results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions due to fewer trucks on the road. Plus, the program is available at no extra cost to renters and homeowners, with the counties footing the bill for the compost bags.
Initially introduced as a pilot program, the Food Scraps Pickup Program has been extended to all residents in Maplewood, North St. Paul, Cottage Grove, and Newport. With the successful expansion, the program is eventually expected to cover all residents of Ramsey and Washington counties. As more people participate in the program, the AI technology continues to learn and improve, paving the way for potential adoption by other local governments.