In the Netherlands, 34,000 tons of paper cups are collected annually by waste processing companies. It would be nice for the environment if this paper could be reused and not burned after it’s first use.
Unfortunately, only 5% of all paper cups are reused in the Netherlands. This is due to contamination by coffee, tea and fruit waste, but also because of the spoons. In order to be able to recycle it, it has to be quite clean. Still, a lot of cups are clean enough, but the real problem is that they are among the dirty cups and those cannot be recognized separately from each other.
Quite a lot of products are recycled in waste processing. To do this, they must either be collected separately or removed from the waste stream with technology.
Waste management companies usually use the properties of a substance for this. For example, you can blow away paper and plastic with air. Iron can be removed using magnets.
None of this is possible for paper cups. There might be a spoon in a stack of cups and that cannot be removed while blowing.
People can recognize that and separate the good from the bad cups, but that is very labour-intensive and there is also a good chance that people will make mistakes if you have to do that day in day out.
With Computer Vision you can teach a computer what (paper) cups are, what fruit waste is and also whether a cup is dirty or not. Discarded cups are more difficult because they don’t always look the same and they often sit in a pile.
But with enough training, you can. Together with Renewi, we have patiently taught our software and hundreds of thousands of images what can and cannot be recycled.
The cups are collected in plastic bags. First, the plastic bag needs to be scanned to find out where it comes from. After that, the bag is automatically removed and the cups fall on the lower conveyor belt.
Above this belt we have set up cameras that see everything that passes. In the video we show what our software sees.
We are currently making a report of what we see per bag. Separation of the good cups from the bad is the next step. But we’ve already fixed the hardest part.