Each year, over 90 million tons of recyclable material end up in United States’ landfills.
The inefficiency of the recycling system in the U.S. is largely due to contamination, or the disposal of non-recyclable materials into the recycling stream. It is estimated that, on average, 1 in every 4 items in recycling bins is a non-recyclable item. Historically, most of the U.S’ recycling has been sent overseas to be disposed. However, our contamination issue has become so problematic that China, our primary recycler, has begun to reject our recycling. The rejection of our recycling by foreign countries signifies a need for change in the way recycling is sorted in the U.S.. One potential solution to our waste problem is the use of machines, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and robotics to sort recycling. Environmental innovators have already begun implementing these technologies in select recycling facilities across the country. Widespread application of these technologies could significantly reduce contamination in the recycling system and be a huge step forward in fixing the United State’s waste issue.