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AI-powered food-grade plastic sorting project delivers world first.

An AI-powered food-grade plastic sorting project led by Recycleye, Valorplast, and TotalEnergies has delivered a world first towards polypropylene mechanical recycling.

Collaborative research project OMNI directed by Recycleye, Valorplast, and TotalEnergies to enhance the circularity of polypropylene (PP) food packaging led to ground-breaking results.

The new technology based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and computer vision, coupled with an efficient decontamination process, provides a high-performing marketable solution to tackle the challenge of mechanically recycling polypropylene for food-contact applications.

Project OMNI is an innovative project aiming to leverage AI and Machine Learning for the identification and separation of food-grade PP from household post-consumer wastes. It is one of the 7 projects successfully selected in October 2020 by CITEO, a mission-led company reducing the environmental impacts of household packaging and paper, in the framework of a call for projects.

After 18 months of research, Project OMNI led to an alternative to digital and physical marking solutions which require system-wide packaging changes. In a demonstration unit, Recycleye built and trained an AI model based on wastes collected from 5 locations across France supplied and characterized by Valorplast.

The AI and robotic sorting achieved a successful pick rate of 50% of the food-grade material, with >95% purity. This sorting activity produced material used for further decontamination on a semi-industrial pilot based on off-the-shelf mechanical recycling technologies. TotalEnergies then leveraged its polymer expertise to produce odorless, clean rPP suitable for high-end packaging applications.

The novel developed process has demonstrated the efficient decontamination of food-grade PP waste sorted by AI and computer vision and opens new opportunities for circularity of polypropylene packaging.

Nathalie Brunelle, Senior Vice President, Polymers at TotalEnergies, said: “This project not only demonstrates how cutting-edge technology can improve material circularity, but also paves the way for a wider range of accessible applications for recycled polymers to serve our customers. It provides a concrete response to the challenge of managing end-of-life plastics, and fully supports our ambition of reaching 1 million tons of circular polymers”.

Victor Dewulf, CEO of Recycleye added “We are extremely excited to see this successful application of our robust AI-powered sorting technology at a semi-industrial scale. This application opens the possibility of creating new markets for recycled plastics materials; ultimately changing the economics of recycling”.

“Being able to recycle food-grade PP is a key factor in the establishment of a circular economy for PP packaging. AI is a promising route for achieving this objective” commented Alban Cotard, Sales Quality and Development Manager at Valorplast.


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