We were delighted to announce TrueCircle’s official launch this week to the wider world and want to shed some light on how it all started.
Most people now recognise that society’s unrelenting consumption and waste generation is harming our planet beyond repair. Heart-wrenching images of developing countries littered with plastic waste (often generated by developed countries) are easy to stumble upon online these days. Dig a little deeper and it isn’t hard to find out that of the 350 million tonnes of plastic waste produced globally every year, less than 9% is actually recycled. There is also a growing awareness that virgin plastic production alone generates well over 1 billion tonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions.
And yet most people feel powerless to do anything about this accelerating environmental and climate crisis. We have seen some attempts over the years to change consumer habits and make people recycle more conscientiously; most of these sadly failed because the overwhelming majority of consumers will always prioritise convenience over anything else. We figured that we’d have to tackle the problem at the underlying infrastructure level to have real impact. The only thing we knew was that masses of material that could have been recycled were ending up being incinerated or, even worse in landfill and nature, and that that amount was rising exponentially each year. However, we didn’t actually understand how the underlying recycling system worked nor what its flaws were; we had to figure these out in order to come up with a solution.
So we embarked on a road-trip (by electric car of course!) to visit 20 recycling facilities all over the UK and dig into why so much material entering our waste streams failed to make its way back into raw materials and new products. We encountered, in most cases, industrious and entrepreneurial teams, who were passionate about their work but had been held back by a lack of technology. The same message resounded loud and clear wherever we went and stuck with us; the absolute lack of real time and reliable data in this industry was the source of their most crippling problems.
MRFs (Material Recovery Facilities), for example, are the primary sorting centres where commingled recycling waste streams from households and businesses are separated into distinct output material streams such as PET Plastic, HDPE Plastic, Aluminium or Cardboard. These facilities invest in conveyor belts, sorting equipment and manual processes to recover these material streams. This act of separation is their value-add to society and how they generate a profit but fundamentally they don’t have the data they need to perform their role as effectively as possible. They have no real time data to alert them when there is a major issue in their plant affecting the quality of their outputs and their recovery rates. This means that they can’t take corrective action quickly enough and issues often go unnoticed for days or weeks. It also means they struggle to prove the quality of their outputs and so get bogged down in endless disputes with material buyers instead of optimising recovery rates.
Many members of our core team had extensive experience developing and deploying computer vision AI technology at global scale in a range of industries from ID verification to warehouse robots to cybersecurity. We were quickly able to prove that we could install vision systems in these facilities to analyse every item passing over the conveyor belts and solve the core data sparsity problem we had identified above. We then set out to deploy this product into all types of Recycling facilities from Paper Mills to Plastic Reprocessors to MRFs across Europe, ensuring that we could deliver it reliably in the harshest, dirtiest and smelliest of conditions. Equally important was to make sure our data was packaged up and surfaced to these facilities in a way that it could actually drive meaningful action and change.
This data-as-a-service layer is the key first step in our mission to transform the recycling industry. It is the foundation, upon which we will be building a whole host of products that our customers are crying out for. Everything we are building will increase recycling rates, in both developed and developing markets, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the mismanagement of waste.
To achieve this mission, we need to keep adding exceptional people to our rapidly expanding team. We love working with people who come up with creative solutions to hard problems and execute them at relentless speed with zero politics, ego and arrogance. If that sounds like you, get in touch here, and help us rid the planet of waste!
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