Recycleye and SWEEEP Kuusakoski use AI for waste electrical sorting

24 January 2024

SWEEEP Kuusakoski and Recycleye announced the first successful commercial application of AI computer vision in the detection and sorting of WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) in the UK. This announcement brings 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, based in Sittingbourne, Kent, specialises in the recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment. Recycleye is a ground-breaking 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 innovatively sort e-waste for recycling.

Whilst existing optical sorters in waste facilities already use pneumatic ejection, the integration of 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 colour and light-based sensors. 

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 makes them difficult to detect with NIR, and 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. 

At SWEEEP’s site in Sittingbourne, Recycleye’s AI-powered optical sorter is installed at the back-end of the plant, sorting between higher value items with precious metal content, namely copper, PCBs, cables and brass, and lower value materials, such as aluminium, plastics, steel, ferrous metals and batteries. By ejecting the lower value materials through AI-powered detection, the system is cleaning up SWEEEP’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.

Speaking about the innovation, Barry Walker, Chief Executive Officer of SWEEEP Kuusakoski said “This innovation will not only increase the value of our material output, but also safeguard our staff and facilities as the AI vision operates 24/7 to detect batteries. As one of the UK’s leading electrical equipment collection and recycling specialists, we are confident that the additional purity this investment achieves will enable us to supply even greater volumes of low carbon and resource efficient raw materials back into the circular economy.”

Commenting on the new partnership, Zoe Cook, Technical Sales Manager (UK) at Recycleye, said “This is an important milestone for the use of our AI and sorting technology. This successful application in the sorting of WEEE demonstrates that AI-powered sorting automation can be utilised to tackle even more waste categories, due to the flexibility to adapt machine learning models to different streams”. 

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