A.R.T. Sorts Your Recyclables For You

[Yuhin Wu] wrote in to let us know about the Automated Recycling Sorter that was built with a group of classmates at the University of Toronto. They entered it the school’s student design contest and we’re happy to report that it took first place.

The angled sled has been designed to separate glass, plastic, and metal containers. The first sorting happens at the intake area. A set of moment arms are used to weed out the glass bottles. Since there are several of them in a row, a larger and heavier plastic container will not be falsely sorted and the same goes for smaller glass bottles.

With the glass out of the mix the team goes on to separate metal and plastic. An Arduino was used for this purpose. It senses an electrical disturbance caused by a metal can passing through the chute and actuates a trap door to sort it. Plastic has no effect on this sensor and slides past the trap to its own sorting bin.

Don’t miss both demo videos which we’ve included after the break.



21 thoughts on “A.R.T. Sorts Your Recyclables For You

    1. This is how it done in real life, recycling places really need to put up more videos on YouTube.

      They use a lot of tricks to separate out stuff, the obvious one is magnets to pull out steel, but also optical, weighing, eddy currents, resistance etc.

      Quite impressive when you thing about it.

      1. yeah, I should have been more clear.
        I mean more like “make it work fine if you just clear out a container of mixed stuff at once”
        I bet the real nitty gritty stuff is in figuring out that part :)

  1. I hate to be so negative but sorting glass by weight isn’t the that reliable, primarily because it needs a mechanical size check. I also question the scalability and cost versus cheap labor.

    1. Seems to me that the size/weight part was taken care of by the “set” of moment arms. Scalability? well, at this scale, it’s a cheap solution for home sorting, when you have lazy people or kids and curbside recycling is required.
      At large scale, similar machines are already used, controlled by multiple computers, with people involved to pull out other trash and stuff that gets missed. They just cost a huge amount and sort a huge amount. This is a scale down, the large scale has already been done. In particular I see this at this size as a good idea for cities where curbside recycling requires people to sort the recyclables into multiple bins. Some people, or their kids will just dump whatever into whatever bin.

  2. I don’t like to dissent, but I do hold the big picture in mind. For this to be practical it would also need to be able to sort paper. Also if you have to put one piece in at a time why not just have three bins sitting next to each other and place it in it’s respective bin?

    1. Seriously? Who made any claims about its scalability, or even suggested market? Do you know the scope of the contest they built it for? As they were awarded first place, do you not think being scalable to an industry level wasn’t a requirement?

      The negative Nancys of HAD are undoubtedly a reason less people are willing to share their work here. It’s called hack a day, not production ready product a day.

      1. Well said Mike! It’s clearly indicated that this was done as part of a student engineering competition. Maybe the naysayers should try offering constructive criticism and productive suggestions instead of criticizing for its’ own sake (or to see their name on screen). These young people developed a relatively simple solution to an everyday problem and demonstrated that it can be done which , I’d venture, was the objective of said competition. Give them a little credit for their accomplishment. (Steps down, picks up soapbox, and exits… )

  3. Not perfect but a great project!

    I’ll think about it every time I’m at a coffee shop with Recycle, Compost and Trash bins and notice that the contents of each is exactly the same.

  4. Most waste companies already have this and do this. Here in michigan we have waste stream recycling, so you throw everything in the trash and they have automated systems to pull out metals and plastic.

    these kids invented something that has existed for years in the Industrial world.

      1. You are right. This is like many projects I did as an EE student. The professor creates a easily understood problem and we would create solutions that demonstrated that we could apply what the class was teaching. They came up with a solution and it worked for them. Nice Job.

    1. I suppose these kids should never solved the classic projectile problem in physics since, well, that problem has been solved for decades.

      I suppose these kids should never use the test to type their own blood if they know it because, well, they’ve known it for years.

      I suppose they should never run a small scale distillation column to separate alcohol and water because, well, it’s been done for years in industry.

      There’s nothing wrong with doing stuff like this. As someone who deals daily with materials handling on a professional basis, I can tell you that they probably gained many times more knowledge that if they just read about how this stuff works.

  5. I have a carbon based unit that does the same thing…..ME! Some things don’t need a solution, just a bit of consideration!

    Not to undermine the effort though….nothing wrong with trying to fix a problem. But some problems need to not exist in the first place!

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