Rise Of The Recycling Robots

www.forbes.com
7 min read
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They are coming—for your trash. Sorting through 67 million tons of glass, plastic and paper is dirty, low-paid, mind-numbing work. Matanya Horowitz's AMP Robotics wants to take humans off the job.
At an RDS of Virginia recycling center in Roanoke, two spider-like, 300-pound robots sort through an unending line of trash. One robot's skinny leg, which relies on computer vision to detect recyclables, plucks a hunk of blue plastic off a conveyor belt, while the other's grabs a piece of an old water bottle. The machine then places those bits into sorting bins using a vacuum gripper.

For the nation's 600-plus recycling facilities, which process some 67 million tons of waste, these leggy robots from AMP Robotics are one answer to the current bottlenecks facing the industry. Even before Covid-19 struck, AMP Robotics was starting to gain traction. But as boxes from home deliveries piled up at recycling centers and hiring—already a tough proposition—got even tougher as workers feared getting ill, AMP's business boomed. "It's repetitive and not ergonomic, and you are surrounded by unsanitary stuff like hypodermic needles," says AMP founder and CEO Matanya Horowitz. "With Covid on top of that, people are saying, 'Do I really want to put my hands in this material that maybe came from an infected person's house?'"

AMP, which is based in Louisville, Colorado, has sold or leased 100 of its AI-powered robots since 2017 to more than 40 recycling facilities in North America, Europe and Japan. They're not cheap, at a cost of up to $300,000 (or around $6,000 a month to lease), but those recycling centers are betting that the hefty capital expense will pay off with lower employment costs and higher efficiency. Forbes estimates that AMP's revenue this year will reach $20 million, double its $10 million for 2019. And there's lots of room for growth: Recycling is a $6.2 billion (revenue) market in the U.S., and while the overall market has been growing at less than 2% a year (and declined this year due to Covid-19), facilities are trying to figure out how to get more out of their waste, the majority of which still ends up in landfills.

Thanks to both its technological promise…
Kenrick Cai
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