Skip to main content
Move the World.
recycling robot

Lead Image Courtesy of AMP Robotics

Updated, 01/26/21, 4:05 PM ET: This article was updated to correct the name of one of AMP Robotics' clients.

Every week or two, you might drag a bin full of recyclables to the curb alongside your trash, thinking you're doing your part to help solve the world's waste crisis — the United States alone generates nearly 300 million tons of trash each year.

But before your recyclables can be turned into new products, though, they have to be manually sorted by workers at a recycling center.

Those centers can't afford to hire as many people as are needed to sort all the recyclables they receive every day, though, so your discarded bottles and cans could still end up going to a landfill.

Even if the centers could afford it, not many people want to spend 40 hours a week sorting through trash — many new hires quit just hours after starting the job, according to Brent Bell of WM Recycle America, a recycling services company.

Now, Colorado-based startup AMP Robotics has come up with a solution to this problem: an AI-powered recycling robot that can sort recyclables twice as quickly as its human counterparts — and it never gets burned out by the job.

A Recycling Robot

AMP's recycling robot, which looks like a large hollow box, hangs on a steel frame over a conveyor belt at a recycling center. A camera feeds a stream of the recyclables passing below the bot to an AI software program. The AI is trained to recognize different types of items with 99% accuracy.

"It perceives objects that are potentially bent, deformed, folded, crushed, just like you or I would if we were looking at the materials in these sorting facilities," Rob Writz, AMP's director of business development, explained. "It's using the same kind of perception and logic as a human being."

Once the software recognizes an item, the recycling robot can then use a suction cup on one of its three hands to pick up the recyclable and place it in the appropriate bin — milk jugs go with plastics, soda cans with aluminum, etc.

Unlike human workers, AMP's robot can also provide comprehensive data on the recyclables — it keeps track of every item it recognizes and can share that list at the end of each day.

That information could be useful for waste reduction efforts.

Looking Ahead

Recycling centers can lease AMP's recycling robot for less than $6,000 per month, and according to the startup, doing so could save them up to 70% on their sorting costs.

The system can be installed in just 48 hours, and AMP has already deployed hundreds of the robots at recycling centers across three continents and 20 states.

"It's using the same kind of perception and logic as a human being."

Rob Writz

In April 2020, the company announced that its robots had sorted one billion recyclables in the past 12 months, and before the end of the year, Waste Connections ordered 24 of the robots, marking the startup's biggest contract to-date.

2021 is already off to a good start, too — on January 4, AMP announced that it had secured another $55 million in funding, meaning its efforts to keep recyclables out of landfills will continue well into the future.

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

Future of Cities
Paving the Way With Recycled Roads
Paving the Way With Recycled Roads
Future of Cities
Paving the Way With Recycled Roads
The world is facing a massive build up of waste. But this solution of recycled roads may pave the way for a cleaner future.

A recycled road has been paved with asphalt that contains the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of plastic bags, along with thousands of glass bottles and printer cartridges’ worth of waste toner. In addition to the sheer amount of recycled materials the process will divert away from landfills, these longer-lasting roads also help to reduce the carbon footprint of construction.

Sustainable Solutions
In a Circular Economy, Leaders Look to Eliminate Waste
In a Circular Economy, Leaders Look to Eliminate Waste
Sustainable Solutions
In a Circular Economy, Leaders Look to Eliminate Waste
A step further than recycling, a circular economy would eliminate the idea of garbage completely. But will consumers hop on board? We gave it a try, and here's our honest review.

A step further than recycling, a circular economy would eliminate the idea of garbage completely. But will consumers hop on board? We gave it a try, and here's our honest review.

Future of Cities
Merging Nature and Sustainable Design: An Interview with Daan Roosegaarde
Daan Roosegaarde is a Dutch architect on a mission to create a more efficient and beautiful world through innovative, sustainable design.
Future of Cities
Merging Nature and Sustainable Design: An Interview with Daan Roosegaarde
From towers that create pockets of clean air to a luminescent bike path that glows like children's ceiling stars, Daan Roosegaarde's entire practice is centered around the beauty of living with nature and removing pollution from urban life.

From towers that create pockets of clean air to a luminescent bike path that glows like children's ceiling stars and windmills drawing lines of light across the sky, Daan Roosegaarde's entire practice is centered around the beauty of living with nature and removing pollution from urban life.

Sustainability
Adidas’ Sustainable Shoes Are String Art Made By a Robot
Sustainable Shoes
Sustainability
Adidas’ Sustainable Shoes Are String Art Made By a Robot
The Adidas Futurecraft team has unveiled a pair of sustainable shoes made by a robot that weaves individual threads like it's creating string art.

The Adidas Futurecraft team has unveiled a pair of sustainable shoes made by a robot that weaves individual threads like it's creating string art.

Future of Food
These Pioneers are Building the Sustainable Food Systems of Tomorrow
These Pioneers are Building the Sustainable Food Systems of Tomorrow
Future of Food
These Pioneers are Building the Sustainable Food Systems of Tomorrow
In a new Freethink original series, Michael O'Shea goes around the world to introduce us to the scientists who are working hard to ensure that we can feed our future world.

There are currently over 7 billion human beings alive on Earth --- and in 2050 the world's population will rise by almost 2 billion. That's a lot more mouths to feed considering that roughly 11 percent of the world goes hungry today. "in the next 40 years, we need to produce the same amount of food as we did over the last 8,000 years." Ernst van den...