AI-powered WEEE and Metal Sorting

In January this year, SWEEEP Kuusakoski and Recycleye announced the first successful commercial application of AI computer vision in detecting and sorting WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) in the UK.

According to the two companies, this announcement would bring the use of artificial intelligence for automated sorting to WEEE and metals, “which although is increasingly being used to sort household waste, has not yet been widely applied to WEEE or metals”. SWEEEP Kuusakoski specializes in the recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment. Recycleye is a technology company bringing AI-powered automated sorting to waste and materials management. Together, the companies deployed an optical sorter that uses AI and machine learning to sort e-waste for recycling.

As underlined by Recycleye, integrating the technology with AI rather than NIR is novel to this application. “Using AI to detect objects means they are identified by a range of visual features, just like a human eye, rather than by purely color and light-based sensors,” the information said. “In WEEE, this means that the new technology can detect PCBs compared to other pieces of metal and plastic, so precious metal content can be extracted for recovery. Historically, existing optical sorters have struggled to identify PCBs accurately when broken into small fractions, and so AI-powered ejection is now equipping metal recyclers like SWEEEP with new capabilities.” Similarly, the multi-material nature of batteries would make them difficult to detect with NIR, and is often a manual task. “Yet, AI has the potential to detect and eject batteries based on visual features, reducing the risk of ignition during the recycling process.”

Recycleye’s AI-powered optical sorter is installed at the back-end of the SWEEEP Kuusakoski plant in Sittingbourne (Kent), sorting between higher value items with precious metal content (namely copper, PCBs, cables and brass) and lower value materials (such as aluminum, plastics, steel, ferrous metals and batteries). By ejecting the lower value materials through AI-powered detection, the system was cleaning up the plant’s valuables line to support purer waste streams. “This installation to sort SWEEEP’s shredded e-waste is the first time that Recycleye has combined its AI with an air jet system and marks the first step that the innovative companies are taking together in evaluating the impact of AI on WEEE sorting,” the technology company Recycleye pointed out.,

(Published in GLOBAL RECYCLING Magazine 1/2024, Page 19, Photo: O. Kürth)