Dec 15, 2021 - News

Polk county considering AI-backed recycling

Illustration of a video game start menu with a pixelated recycle icon

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Polk county wants to settle the household "is this recyclable?" argument once and for all.

What's happening: The county could soon bring innovative programs and policies to Tampa Bay's trash, including using AI for sorting.

  • Frustrated with residents who continue to put glass and certain plastics in their recycling bins, county officials are proposing that residents who habitually break the rules be stripped of their recycling container, the Ledger reports.

Why it matters: Plastics like soda and water bottles devalue the rest of the recycling load when mixed with other materials, and glass costs more to haul away than it's worth.

State of play: The county is also considering using Lid Vizion, an AI waste management startup founded by a University of Miami graduate.

  • Residents would scan trash from their homes with their cell phones using a QR code to see if the material is recyclable.

The intrigue: No other county in the country has introduced this service to its residents, officials told the Ledger.

  • The cost of the program is not yet known.

Between the lines: Most of the plastic and glass Polk residents try to recycle ends up in the landfill. Polk County only recycled 9% of collected glass and 11% of plastic bottles in 2020, per the Ledger.

  • To streamline the recycling process, the county changed its policy in 2017 to focus on recycling cardboard, plastic milk jugs and paper, since those products are more likely to be re-used.
  • The county can already tell who isn't following the rules based on reports from recycling truck drivers. To increase the pressure, Ana Wood, the county's waste management director, suggested giving residents clear recycling bins and taking away the bins of those who don't comply with the rules.
  • "We have people in neighborhoods who love recycling and they are going to see a whole bunch of stuff that doesn't belong in there," Wood said at a county meeting last week.

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