Aluminium is a commonly recycled metal. It is typically used in the production of aluminium beverage cans, aerosol cans and more. The recycling of aluminium has increased over time, with many different ways to sort aluminium from other waste materials.

Aluminium is used in various products such as food cans, beverage cans, bottles, industrial, and construction processes, as well as being a substrate for producing aluminium rods and powder. Aluminium is recyclable because it does not contaminate other materials during the process, and in fact, it can be recycled infinitely and 75% of all aluminium ever produced is still in use.

How Is Aluminium Recycled?

When aluminium is thrown into the trash or discarded, it’s collected and transported to a waste management or recycling facility. Here, the mixed waste is sorted and processed so that recyclates are separated from one another.

Aluminium can be recycled once it has been separated from other materials, such as paper and plastic. The recycled aluminium is manually or chemically cleaned, shredded, and placed into a furnace so it can be re-melted. This ensures that coatings and inks that may be present on the aluminium are fully removed, and it also converts the aluminium into a molten state.

When the aluminium is molten, it is poured into casts and set. Typically, each cast contains one ingot of aluminium, which is enough to make approximately 1.6 million beverage cans. To increase the useability of the material, aluminium processing mills roll the ingots into thin layers, which are used to create new products, such as drinks cans or food packaging.

What Is Aluminium Sorting?

Aluminium sorting is the process of removing aluminium-based products from mixed waste materials in Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). When aluminium arrives at a MRF, it needs to be sorted and separated so that different materials and grades can be processed appropriately. Mixed recyclates are typically placed on a recycling conveyor belt to enable efficient sorting and accurate picking.

Traditionally, sorting and picking has been undertaken manually, with humans identifying aluminium within the mixed recyclates and moving individual pieces to the appropriate sorting bin or container. As new technology emerges, however, many recycling facilities have switched to other methodologies, such as magnetic sorting using an eddy current to differentiate between ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and AI robots.

How Do AI Robots Identify and Pick Aluminium?

Artificial intelligence has been a game-changer for many industries, including the waste management and recycling sector. Here, we explain how an AI robot sorts and picks aluminium in a mixed recycling facility:

Computer Vision Identification

Firstly, computer vision is used to scan and identify aluminium on the conveyor belt as it moves through a waste sorting facility. In practice, computer vision is used to identify many different types of recyclates, so aluminium sorting takes place alongside the sorting of other recyclable materials, such as plastics and paper.

In fact, Recycleye Vision is capable of detecting materials across an unlimited number of classes and scans each item more than 100 times to ensure accuracy. As well as determining what type of material each item is composed of, the computer vision solution can detect and differentiate between food and non-food grade recyclates, colours and shapes, as well as packaging and non-packaging materials.

The accuracy of this process determines the efficacy of the subsequent picking, so it’s vital that computer vision technology is capable of accurately identifying recyclates. Furthermore, computer vision enables mixed recycling facilities to adhere to industry standards and regulations. For example, Recycleye Vision provides real-time compositional data as it scans and identifies recyclates, supporting MRF compliance with transparency and traceability standards.

Robotic Sorting and Picking

Once aluminium recyclates have been identified on the recycling conveyor belt, an AI waste robot can get to work picking and sorting them!

The identification data obtained via computer vision provides the waste robot with the information required to determine which items should be picked. When recycling aluminium, for example, an AI robot, like Recycleye Robotics, will pick items made from aluminium or aluminium fragments from the conveyor belt, based on the compositional data generated via computer vision scanning.

From here, the AI waste robot will pick up the recyclate and place it in another location, such as a sorting bin. This enables co-mingled waste to be quickly and accurately sorted based on a variety of factors, such as picking contaminants from target materials or valuable materials from residual waste.

Why Is Accurate Picking and Sorting So Important?

Demand for recycled materials is increasing, particularly as companies strive to meet more ambitious sustainability targets. However, materials must meet be of a particular quality for them to proceed through the recycling process. Potential buyers of recycled aluminium will, therefore, want to ensure the recyclates they are purchasing adhere to their requirements.

Within the aluminium trade, the price of recyclates can vary depending on type, quality, and grade, so accurate picking and sorting are essential.

While humans traditionally undertook this task, advanced technology, such as AI robots, means that mixed recycling facilities can rely on automated processes to identify, sort, and pick recyclates with high rates of accuracy and efficiency. Recycleye Robotics is capable of delivering up to 33,000 picks from co-mingled dry mixed recycling in the space of a 10-hour shift. Furthermore, in-built pressure sensors avoid ‘empty picks’ and optimise the pick path to further boost efficiency.

Optimising Aluminium Recycling with AI Robots

Aluminium is relatively easy to recycle, which makes it a great material for use in packaging, food containers and drinks cans. As these items are typically single-use, making sure they are recycled reduces the amount of waste that’s sent to landfills and minimises the harmful environmental impact that downcycled waste can cause.

The enhanced speed, accuracy and quality control offered by automated processes like waste sorting robots mean that mixed recycling facilities can accelerate the sorting and picking process. This increases the rate at which co-mingled recyclates are separated into different classes, ready to continue their journey to the next stage of the recycling process and supporting MRF profitability.

At Recycleye, we’re proud of our proven technology, Recycleye Vision and Recycleye Robotics, that is helping to optimise picking and sorting in a growing number of sites across Europe and the US.  To learn more about the possibilities, contact our team now at [email protected]eye.com or book a free audit today.