Canadian city uses AI technology to reduce recycling contamination

AI Technology - Recycling Contamination

Kelowna, British Columbia used artificial technology to improve recycling bin contents by 23 percent

Kelowna, a city in the Canadian province of British Columbia, has implemented AI technology and smart cameras into a new program to reduce recycling contamination in its municipal curbside recycling bin program.

So far, the program resulted in a 23 percent improvement

According to officials from the Central Okanagan Regional District, to which Kelowna is a part, the improvements in recycling contamination are the result of new smart cameras mounted on collection trucks and that have AI technology-based visual recognition.  This makes it possible for the trucks to track items that aren’t accepted by the recycling program.

AI Technology - BC Flag

The artificial intelligence system was trained to spot common problem items that are frequently tossed into curbside bins, such as trash, plastic bags, Styrofoam and yard waste.  Furthermore, the system is able to let residents know of the identified materials in real time.

The AI technology was used as part of a five month pilot program

The program ran from October 2023 through March 2024 as a part of a partnership between the Regional District of Central Okanagan, its member municipalities, Prairie Robotics, Environmental 360 Solutions, and Recycle BC.

As a part of the pilot program, 8,777 postcards were mailed to area residents.  The technology was also installed onto four recycling trucks, at a price tag of $68,000, of which half was covered by Recycle BC.

Throughout the pilot program, contamination to recycling fell by 23 percent. Furthermore, the report on the pilot indicated that the majority of Central Okanagan region residents now have an understanding of what can be tossed into their recycling bins.

Nearly half the participants in the program were recycling correctly, and 35.6 percent of residents altered their behaviors once they’d received one of the postcards.

Other findings from the pilot program determined that 6.7 percent of the region’s residents were deemed “repeat offenders.” That is, they were behind a massive third of the contamination being sent into the recycling program.

Of all the contaminants ending up in the municipal recycling, the AI technology identified the most common materials, which were flexible plastics – such as grocery bags, chip bags, blue bags, wrappers and Styrofoam – and garbage.

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