Polypropylene (PP) represents roughly 20% of the world’s virgin plastic production, but less than 3% of food-grade polyolefins are recycled worldwide. Artificial intelligence and robotic sorting solutions have can help improve this scenario. Now, OMNI, a collaborative research project directed by Recycleye, Valorplast, and TotalEnergies to enhance the circularity of PP food packaging using the technology, has shown promising results.
Recycleye, a UK-based expert on robotic automation, built and trained an AI model based on wastes collected from five locations across France supplied and characterised by Valorplast, a Paris-based collection service of household plastic packaging. After 18 months of research, the team developed an AI and robotic sorting solution which achieved a pick rate of 50% of food-grade PP, with over 95% purity.
The sorted material was then further decontaminated on a semi-industrial pilot plant using existing mechanical recycling technologies. French oil giant TotalEnergies then leveraged its polymer expertise to produce odourless, clean, recycled PP suitable for high-end packaging applications.
Project OMNI said the project demonstrated that AI and computer vision can efficiently sort food-grade PP waste. The team believes the automation solution has advantages over digital and physical marking solutions, which require system-wide packaging changes and may therefore be harder to implement. France is spearheading innovation in this field too, having been chosen as the first country to implement Digimarc’s digital watermarks technology on a nation-wide basis.
“We are extremely excited to see this successful application of our robust AI-powered sorting technology at a semi-industrial scale,” said Victor Dewulf, CEO of Recycleye. “This application opens the possibility of creating new markets for recycled plastics materials; ultimately changing the economics of recycling”.
Project OMNI was launched in 2020, after selection for support by Citeo, a mission-led company reducing the environmental impacts of household packaging and paper.