Can AI Save The Planet?
Maybe I woke up this morning in far too much of an optimistic frame of mind, but let's look at one way in which AI can help address the many challenges we, and our planet is facing. Waste.
- 5.40am and my alarm gently wakes me.
- 6am I hear the lorries groaning and squealing outside and I dash out to drag my recycling bins to the kerb.
- 6.05am I start thinking about today's article
- 6.07am I have found the ideal company to look at.
But before we get there, let's look at the problem.
I (currently) live in a relatively small municipality in the UK, West Berkshire. As you can see from the map below, the little red border is quite a small area.
Taking a look at the area's waste management framework and strategy from a document last updated 2017, in 2015 the local area generated 86,399 tons of waste, with that expected to rise to 130,000 by 2036. That figure excludes commercial, industrial, sewage and radioactive waste (The UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment is neatly tucked away in this little red border, too). Rather interestingly, of all the numbers in the report "Equine Waste" and "Sewage Sludge" look set to stay consistent over the 21 year period.
Later in the report, the stated goal within the Waste Framework Directive is for 50% of household waste to be recycled by 2020. I'm actually due to visit one of the sites later today, and since they publish their current achievements, I will report back on how well they are doing.
So where does AI come into this? Well, for the company I want to mention today, it is somewhere between the "Prevention" and "Preparing for re-use" sections of the inverted pyramid, above.
We have four types of recycling boxes/bags to deal with in West Berkshire; paper and card, glass, plastic and metal, organic. It is the "plastic and metal" bag I wonder about most, because this always has such a variety of things in it. When these are collected in the garbage trucks, mixed with everyone else's and returned to the recycling centre, I can't help but wonder about the sophistication, or not, of the systems sorting this variety of object into different classifications.
Whether an item is classified as "prepare for re-use", marked for "recycling" or sent for "other recovery", will have a significant impact not only on the recycling targets, but also the planet, and of course the profitability of the waste management company.
As I mentioned in a post on sustainability and finance, I believe that a rapid change away from the capitalism that has driven the planet into the modern day crisis is unlikely, and that we need to hack it to work for the planet, instead of against it.
With that in mind, financial incentives for good-global behaviour should be encouraged, and in this instance, systems that can help waste management companies increase profitability through being able to reduce the amount fo waste that is poured back into the planet would be ideal. So let's meet Greyparrot.
Greyparrot uses camera systems that can be mounted onto existing waste processing infrastructure, and artificial intelligence (AI) to create computer vision systems for identify different types of waste product as they move through the recycling facility.
Since waste doesn't live only in the recycling centre, it seems quite smart that their systems can also be deployed and integrated through the supply chain, including smart bins, and the collection trucks.
Greyparrot suggest that currently we only recycle 1% of the global waste, with much of the remainder going straight to landfill. Speaking on the BBC, Mikela Druckman (CEO and Founder of Greyparrot) said their system can not only detect the type of waste, but also the purity of the waste, which is key for the profitability of the waste management operation, which is currently approximately worth $200bn a year.
Can AI save the planet? Perhaps. Whether you agree with that or not, AI systems like Greyparrot's that help reduce the impact humans have on the planet by helping improve the waste management and recycling efficacy are definitely a good step forward.
Do you work for Greyparrot?