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### Implementing AI in a Novel Ramsey-Washington County Initiative for Soil and Trash Segregation

New program uses artificial intelligence, robots to sort compost from trash.

Composting in Ramsey and Washington regions is advancing, with four designated waste disposal sites where residents can utilize synthetic intelligence for waste management, to some extent.

Through the districts’ innovative Food Scraps Pickup Program, residents can dispose of special waste bags in garbage trucks. These bags are then collected by haulers and transported to the county’s waste facility. The waste is sorted using robotic arms and artificial intelligence technology.

This approach differs from traditional curb waste programs, giving it a unique edge in waste management practices.

Sam Holl, the service manager at the Ramsey/Washington Recycling & Energy Center, highlighted the pioneering nature of their system, stating, “We’re probably one of the first areas with this size of a system to do it this way.”

The pilot program, involving residents of Maplewood, North St. Paul, Cottage Grove, and Newport, commenced in October. Eventually, the program aims to be available to all residents of Ramsey and Washington counties.

Integration of Robotics and Advanced Technology

A cutting-edge system processes and sorts trash moving at 73 feet per minute, utilizing artificial intelligence to distinguish food scrap bags based on color and size. The conveyor belt transports the garbage to a designated area at the Recycling & Energy Center in Newport, the central facility for waste management in Ramsey and Washington counties.

The specially designed food scrap bags are resilient to withstand the conveyor belt’s movement and the waste handling process.

Once the AI system identifies a food scrap bag, a mechanical arm swiftly and accurately retrieves it, segregating it from regular household waste, discarded Halloween pumpkins, and other debris.

While the technology excels in detecting aluminum cans, its application in segregating food scrap bags is a recent development, as mentioned by Joe Heinz, the maintenance manager.

Staff members are actively involved in training the technology: bags identified as food scraps, whether correctly or erroneously, are reprocessed by the system to refine its accuracy.

The separated food scraps are currently directed to a specialized compartment and will eventually undergo anaerobic digestion to generate electricity, as per Holl.

Co-Collection Model for Enhanced Efficiency

Residents in Minneapolis and various other communities have the option to request a dedicated compost collection service independent of regular trash collection.

In Ramsey and Washington counties, residents have embraced the “co-collection” model, where both regular waste and food scrap bags are collected simultaneously. Annalee Garletz, the waste recycling software manager, highlighted several benefits of this approach.

This model maintains the existing waste collection structure, making it convenient for residents and waste haulers alike. Moreover, it is a cost-free service for renters and homeowners, offered in addition to their regular waste disposal fees.

By combining waste and food scrap collection, the co-collection model reduces greenhouse gas emissions by minimizing the number of vehicles on the road for separate collections.

The software is currently accessible to 40,000 families following its rollout last season in four cities, with 2,283 families already enrolled.

Sam Ferguson, the program’s communication and outreach consultant, expressed the desire for increased participation, emphasizing that enhanced system efficiency leads to higher engagement in food scrap disposal practices. As the technology evolves, other local governments may find it easier to adopt similar waste management solutions.

The timeline for expanding the program to additional cities in Ramsey and Washington counties remains uncertain. Meanwhile, residents can utilize drop-off locations for food scraps and subscribe to receive program updates.

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Last modified: February 26, 2024
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