Feds tap artificial intelligence to boost recycling

By Ellie Borst | 02/21/2024 01:31 PM EST

The technology could help plug data gaps key to EPA’s goal to improve the nation’s recycling rate to 50 percent by 2030.

Recycling worker.

A worker sorts paper and plastic waste at a recycling plant in Oregon. Some companies are looking at artificial intelligence to improve the recycling process. Natalie Behring/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration and some of the largest waste companies are betting on artificial intelligence to boost notoriously low recycling rates.

The real power of AI to do so lies in the data sets the technology can glean from recycling facilities.

“In a technological world, who controls the data has the power … this will be no different,” said Suzanne Jones, executive director of the nonprofit Eco-Cycle.


Besides the decreased labor costs and increased materials capture of AI, the technology’s vision recognition systems are being used to create valuable and extensive — yet mostly private — data sets on which materials are entering recycling facilities.