Opinion, Uncategorized

Wasted Space – Why AI might not be a bad thing

As I sit here, I find myself pondering what the future will hold for the waste industry over the next 12 months, especially when it comes to AI.

Sure, we will no doubt have the same old problems rearing their collective pain in the posterior heads – unachievable recycling rates, lack of infrastructure, landfill levies being different throughout the varying states – a plethora of issues that seem to either get pushed to one side, or not truly resolved.

However, looming on the horizon is something that could be a game changer. How so? I’m not too sure, but already there are rumblings (both good and bad) among those in the resource recovery industry (the term ‘waste’ seems to being phased out as the industry starts to produce less and less for obvious reasons).

And that game changer is Artificial Intelligence (AI). I know, I know, such things conjure up a dystopian Terminator-esque existence whereby us mere mortals are pushed to the side as the machines take over. It’s not quite that serious, but this type of hullabaloo has happened many times in the history of mankind.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about those sorts of possibilities occurring – apparently the cinema was going to kill theatre, television was going to kill cinema, and the internet and streaming was going to kill everything. What people think will happen, and what will actually happen are two different things in my experience. 

Read more: Wasted Space: why rare earth elements are important to recycling

So, what will the effect be on the waste industry? Well, I think what are termed ‘menial’ jobs will go by the wayside. I’m sure the likes of yourself and your industrialist peers will see this as a positive, and it might be – especially in the health and safety stakes. But my friends in the industry are excited more about the practical aspects of the technology.

Let us not forget that it will be far from perfect. A lot of the AI software is all about machine learning, and the learning will only be as good as those doing the teaching – i.e., us.

One of the most anticipated aspects of AI will be the ability to (hopefully) not only speed up the sorting process for most waste streams, but also (finally) manage to find a way to sort the different streams properly, even down to being able to recognise the many different types of plastics that are chucked in the bins. People down here find the different plastic waste streams very confusing still, but if this type of technology can do what is claimed, then even less items will end up in landfill.

I look forward to the day when only a minute amount of residual waste is all that will end up in landfill, while the vast majority gets a second life in a variety of new products. Here’s hoping it will be a learning experience for all and the realistic benefits of AI can be recognised instead of being the purview of science fiction.

Good day, Sir.


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