Ann Arbor’s new ‘samurai sorting robot’ is a plastics recycling game-changer

Today’s story is courtesy of MI Environment. Recycling Raccoons.

ANN ARBOR — Michigan is now one of the top three states in the nation for recycling plastics, according to a recent Wise Voter study.

SamurAI Recycling Sorting Robot in Ann Arbor

SamurAI Recycling Sorting Robot in Ann Arbor

And in Ann Arbor, plastic recycling is about to get easier thanks to the pending arrival of a state-of-the-art SamurAI sorting robot that will enable the city’s recycling agency to process and sell more plastic than ever before. “This is a big, exciting deal — our new robot is a technological marvel that will be a game changer for how we can more safely recycle certain types of plastics in greater quantities and more efficiently. “We can do more than we’ve ever experienced,” said Yukina, CEO of Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA), a nationally acclaimed nonprofit organization that created Michigan’s first curbside recycling program in 1978. has been credited.

“At the same time, as more and more communities start deploying these SamurAI sorting robots, we can help address our country’s plastic pollution crisis,” Yukina said.

RAA is already revitalizing recycling in Southeast Michigan with a new Material Recovery Facility (MRF) that ensures recycled materials are sorted and used in new products. To be sold to manufacturers.

The MRF opened on December 1, 2021 at 4150 Platt Road in Ann Arbor after 12 months of construction to complete a $7.25 million overhaul of the facility, which had been idle since 2016. Both its physical redesign and operating strategy aim to support an efficient, sustainable recycling system with a zero-waste ethos.

Flight with EGLE

The MRF construction project was supported by an $800,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). This is in line with EGLE’s national award winning goals. Before you throw it away. A recycling education campaign featuring recycling raccoons decorating street corner recycling bins throughout Ann Arbor.

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As a regional center designed to process 34,000 tons annually with a single shift, the MRF provides much-needed recycling infrastructure in Southeast Michigan.

In addition to serving the city of Ann Arbor under a 10-year contract, RAA is processing material from the city of Ypsilanti and the surrounding area. These cities previously sent recyclables out of state for sorting. Ann Arbor is saving $640,000 a year compared to the previous contract, which sent material long distances for processing. The RAA team expects that savings from on-site material processing will continue to increase as the recycling market improves.

Despite the tremendous success of the new MRF, determining how to improve its plastic recycling efficiency remains a major hurdle that faced the RAA and continues to plague recyclers across the country. kept

The problem is plastic

Plastic is a synthetic material that is cheap, strong and resistant. While its properties make it an attractive material to produce and use, those same properties are problematic for the environment – primarily because it doesn’t decompose easily and ends up in the ocean, landfills or littered streets. goes

At the Ann Arbor MRF, plastics are sorted into separate piles based on their melting temperature. Historically, RAA staff have manually sorted some plastics for recycling but because they are difficult to identify with the high speed on the conveyor belt, much of their plastic has gone to landfill.

Enter the SamurAI sorting robot developed by Machinex Technologies.

The SamurAI solution

The machine is an artificial intelligence-powered adaptive robot that more accurately and efficiently identifies specific types of plastics and other materials, especially polypropylene (PP) plastics, for safe, fast and efficient sorting. In selection. PP is the type of plastic that is labeled with the number 5 on the packaging of yogurt, cheese, sour cream and butter containers.

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Now, with the introduction of its SamurAI robot, RAA is looking to increase its PP recycling capacity to at least 360 tonnes per year and divert it from landfills.

Recycled PP is commonly used by manufacturers to make caps, cups, automotive parts, paint cans, transport packaging, household goods and other products. PP has been collected for recycling for less than a decade. But as collection and sorting increases, MRFs across Michigan have made major investments, some of which are driven by support from EGLE, the national nonprofit The Recycling Partnership and others.

RAA’s SamurAI acquisition was funded by a $200,000 grant from EGLE and an additional $186,000 from the Polypropylene Recycling Coalition, an initiative of the Recycling Partnership.

  • Benefits of RAA’s SamurAI solution include its capabilities to:
  • Identify distinguishing features on recyclables like the human eye.
  • Identify recyclable materials in messy, confusing and constantly changing situations, including introducing new packaging and designs.
  • Continuously improve and learn from operating experience.
  • Reach up to 70 processing “picks” per minute, nearly double the average speed of a person separating items by hand in a recycling processing center.
  • Remove small and light materials using a unique integrated suction system that reduces RAA’s daily operating costs.
  • Protect workers from handling hazardous materials, such as batteries, needles, and household chemicals.

Safety ROI of SamurAI

Yukina noted that the importance of improved employee safety and better working conditions at the Ann Arbor MRF is particularly important.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 Employer-Reported Workplace Injuries and Illness Report found that the rate of injuries and illnesses per 100 full-time workers at materials recovery facilities increased from 3.6 in 2019 to 5.1 in 2020. .

“Processing recycled materials by hand is a dangerous occupation for humans – you can get needle stick hepatitis, abrasions and cuts are common, hands get caught in the baling process and on conveyor belts. Many In ways, it’s a more dangerous job than being a firefighter,” Yukina said.

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“It is also important to note that our SamurAI robot will not replace workers. It only improves quality control and reduces safety risks in the workplace,” he added.


About 3.5 billion pounds of rigid polypropylene packaging is sold nationally each year, but only a very small portion is recycled. RAA hopes to improve PP recycling at its new facility when the SamurAI robot becomes operational this fall.

“Polypropylene has strong national growth in sales and consumption, as it is a polymer.

Choice due to its positive health profile and potential for food service and packaging

recycling collection and recycled materials,” said Matt Fletcher, EGLE Recycling Market Development Specialist.

Major retailers, dairy brands and quick-service restaurants are moving from polystyrene – commonly known as Styrofoam – to PP, especially in food and food service applications, as they look for such a material. which can be arranged through local MRFs.

RAA projects that SamurAI’s faster sorting speed will increase RAA’s revenue from the sale of its recycled plastics. As a result, it expects to provide an average of $72,000 annually to the City of Ann Arbor’s coffers and create a new source of funding for all of its Washtenaw County municipal partners.

“We believe that recycled polypropylene will be in high demand in the near future, as being able to put it on product labels signals the commitment of name brand companies to include recycled content in their product lines. are using recycled materials,” said Yukina.

How and what you can recycle depends on where you live and what you’re trying to recycle. To learn more about recycling in Michigan, visit


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