Swarm solution to recycling

If you’re an enthusiastic recycler, like me, you’ll probably know the frustration of seeing how oblivious most people are to recycling.

Recycling in Japan offers a glimmer of hope. See especially the Japanese town of Kamikatsu, aiming for zero waste. These are examples to follow, and directions we need to move in. But to get to a zero waste world, we’d better not rely on everyone being as orderly and disciplined as a Japanese town. Given the range of personality types, the difficulty many of us have in keeping our desks tidy, and our computer files and backups in order, what would it take to get everything recycled?

I see help coming from technology. Bioplastics are here already – plastic bags that can be composted. They cost just a little more (there was a 15 cent charge for compostable shopping bags when I saw them) and they take around 2 years to compost, but those figures will improve with mass production, and with learning what conditions help them to compost more quickly.

Then there are robots. Boring repetitive tasks like sorting rubbish are ideal for robots – and once they have good enough vision (and maybe other senses), and suitable processing to tell PET from polypropylene from clean paper from soiled paper, we’ll be most of the way there. Look at what swarms of robots can do already:

Ok, it’s scary to think about some applications of this technology, and we need to think hard about that. But the beneficial applications are also huge – and I like the idea of hackers around the world understanding swarm robot tech, rather than having it restricted to militaries and governments.

This is one reason I’m excited about open source hardware. Between Arduino processors, the enthusiasm of hardware hackers, and the latest ideas in swarm robots, we may yet get as near as dammit to a zero waste world. The important thing is to get to work making this happen, sharing best practice as we go.