An eastern Iowa recycling operation is investing five-million dollars in three more trash-sorting robots, after earlier successes with artificial intelligence.

Since 2019, the Scott Area Recycling Center in Davenport has used an optical sorter to identify materials along a conveyor belt and sort them automatically with high-powered jets of air. Bryce Stalcup, recycling operations manager, says the machines will take pressure off the 11 workers who are required for a shift.

“We move our people to more quality control stations that are less demanding on them. People can actually work there instead of having to literally move as fast as they can for eight to ten hours a day, it’s more laid back,” Stalcup says. “You sit there, you’re working on a high-quality product at the end of the day.”

Each day, the 11 workers and the machine sort through 150-tons of recycling, while that conveyor belt is moving at 500 feet per minute. Facility supervisor Mike Keppy says the optical sorter has increased the quality of their recycled product as well the value they can receive from selling it in the second-hand market.

“People say recycling is broken and it doesn’t work,” Keppy says, “and I think when you come here to Scott County and you see our facility and how it works and how things go here, it’s not broken here.” The facility processes 40,000 tons a year, with hopes the new machines will increase that tonnage while decreasing the material that’s sent to the landfill.

The new machines will go online next summer.

(By Zachary Oren Smith, Iowa Public Radio)

Radio Iowa