Smart Plastic Waste Management Systems: Role of Artificial Intelligence


Prof. Chettiyappan Visvanathan

Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand


Abstract: Plastics pervade all aspects of society. We sleep on plastic-filled pillows, clean our teeth with plastic toothbrushes, type on plastic keyboards, drink and eat food from plastic containers and it’s impossible to go through a day without encountering plastic of some kind. This marvel material revolutionized many sectors including Packaging, Transportation, Agriculture, Healthcare, Construction and so on. Consequently, projections of future plastic use show a concomitant increase in post-consumer plastic waste. Adding to risks of local flooding by clogging drains and degradation of air quality from open dumps, a serious concern is where mismanaged plastic waste located near inland waterways or in coastal regions serve as an input of plastics into rivers and the oceans. In 2015 globally, about 79 % of the total plastic waste was discarded or dumped in landfills, 12% was incinerated, and about 9% was recycled. It is important to focus on the Post-consumer plastic waste as it forms the majority of the discarded waste and look for technologies which fill the gaps of current recycling systems. It is highly imminent need to bring the plastic waste into the closed loop to extract utility out of the discarded material and prevent plastic wastes from harming societies and environment. Governments’ plan to ban plastics have paved the way for the possible green alternatives such as bio-based plastics and biodegradable plastics which are not carefully designed and thoroughly tested. Current recycling systems are poorly managed and waste collectors in various parts of the world are unequipped with proper personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other safety measures.
In the global plastic recycling market, Europe is seen as a forerunner in plastic waste management. This is a result of strong regulation and incentives to drive alternatives with an emphasis on circular economies. Also, that there were high recycling rates and use of energy from waste methods to utilise plastic waste that is unsuitable for recycling. China and India are rapidly overhauling waste management processes, but the current emphasis is on low-tech, laborious solutions. Many governments are planning to invest in new technologies which could potentially increase the effectiveness of plastic waste management and promote sustainability. The tools of Artificial Intelligence such as Machine learning, Robotics, Neural Networks, etc. has the potential in helping plastic industries manage plastic waste along the plastic supply chain and help in minimizing the uncertainties of current practices. For instance, the blockchain technology can serve as a trust-based platform between plastic waste segregators, recyclers, and recycled feedstock buyers (manufacturers). The automated sorting systems with Near InfraRed (NIR) sensors and 3D cameras can identify the individual materials and segregate plastic wastes from the mixed solid waste stream. CoBots can work alongside humans in plastic sorting and Smart bins in cities can reduce GHG emissions and help in communicating information on fill levels and can ensure collection only when the bin is full. In addition to segregation from source, Robots can help in collection and transportation of plastic wastes with improved logistics. AI can also help in the process of ensuring the Quality Control (QC) of plastics produced by Plastic Mould Surface Analysis comparatively better than traditional procedures. Smart Systems can help in understanding the fate of plastics discarded into the ocean, monitoring the marine litter followed by remediation strategies to abate the marine plastics.


Biography: Dr. C. Visvanathan is a Professor of the Environmental Engineering and Management Program, School of Environment, Resources and Development, Asian Institute of Technology. He has a Ph.D. (Chemical /Environmental Engineering) from Institute National Polytechnique, Toulouse, France. His main areas of research interests include: Cleaner Production and Industrial Environmental Management, Membrane technologies for water and wastewater treatment and solid waste disposal and management. In the field of solid waste, his main research interests focus around waste recycling and reuse, landfill pre-treatment technologies, plus methane oxidation and green house gas emission related to land fill design. He has published more than 150 international journal papers. He has more than 30 years of experiences teaching environmental engineering and management related courses at graduate level at AIT. His professional experiences include: Project Engineer, Asia Division, International Training Center for Water Resources Management, Sophia Antipolis, France, and short term consultant to UNEP Industry and Environment Office, Paris, France. Currently he is coordinating the ADB - AIT - UNEP joint project on 3R - Knowledge Hub from the AIT side.


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