Among the many challenges we face, the lack of an intelligent waste management system is a crucial one. Sorting out and getting rid of waste is always a major concern for modern society. As a matter of fact, it has become an even bigger for the UK.
Compounded with China’s waste import ban in 2018, which stopped the UK from exporting 50% of its waste, the recycling industry is now at overcapacity. A nation can advance one step forward if the waste is managed effectively and recycled efficiently.
Realising the opportunity, Victor Dewulf, a banker at Goldman Sachs, resigned from his job in 2019 to co-found Recycleye, the intelligent waste management startup, along with Peter Hedley.
With the company, Victor and Peter aim to accelerate the world’s transition towards a circular economy using 21st-century technologies.
Headquartered in London, Recycleye claims to be disrupting the waste industry by leveraging AI with a low-cost, decentralised, scalable, and fully-automated sorting solution.
Recently, the UK startup raised £1.2M (approx €1.3M) in seed funding led by venture capital investors MMC Ventures and Playfair Capital, with participation from leading funds Atypical Ventures, Creator Fund, and eolos GmbH.
Additionally, the company has also received grants from Innovate UK and the European Union to develop a computer vision system and affordable robotics, to create the world’s first fully automated, and deployable material recovery facility.
Victor Dewulf states: “Recycleye’s cutting-edge technology is a result of Recycleye’s cutting edge team – this new funding will allow us to fuel our relentless drive to spearhead the green revolution! If we are successful, your children will ask you what waste was.”
Largest waste image data set in the world
The startup’s vision system is capable of detecting and classifying all items in waste streams – broken down by material, object, and even brand removes the need for manual waste pickers. Notably, the company has its library of waste images with over 2M trained images and counting.
Till now, the company has been working in stealth mode with its partners of nine computer scientists to build and deploy the vision system in under a year. Also, the Imperial College London and the Delft University of Technology were pivotal in building Recycleye’s technology, claims the company.
Benefitted from Microsoft’s technology
The Redmond giant Microsoft also helped with technological capabilities under the “AI for Good” programme, enabling the startup to scale research and development for further commercialisation.
“Our motto is that waste doesn’t exist, it’s just materials in the wrong place,” says Dewulf. “The reason a lot of materials aren’t recycled is that the cost of sorting it at plants is too expensive, and that’s because the waste industry hasn’t changed in the past 50 years. To sort different types of recyclable material, the industry is using a lot of large and incredibly expensive sensors, which can miss some items. Using computer vision means we can use just one sensor for the whole plant that’s much more cost-effective.”
Notably, the startup has been accepted into leading accelerator programmes such as Technation, EIT RawMaterials, which are bolstering Recycleye’s mission to turn rubbish back into resources.
Peter Hedley, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, adds: “Reducing the cost of sorting suddenly makes waste valuable. When the economics reverse and companies start to make a profit from their waste stream, recycling rates will dramatically increase. That’s a true boost to the circular economy and a huge change for the environment.”
Secured paid pilots in the UK
The London startup has already secured paid pilots with two out of the three largest waste management players in the UK. The company has already deployed multiple systems on the French market, ahead of plans to expand to wider Europe in the next year.
According to the startup, the installed systems have successfully exceeded human performance, enabling their clients to optimise their throughput and examine their strategic operations using live data of their waste flows.
In 2021, the company will focus on scaling their affordable robotics from development to commercialisation – moving closer to deploying a fully-automated material recovery facility.