Recycling: An Opaque Business – Robohub


The Recycling Business in the US is a for-profit trade. They revenue from taking recyclable materials, refining it, and reselling it to firms at a less expensive value than producing the fabric from scratch.

Provide and Demand in Recycling

Should you take a look at the demand facet of the recycling trade, an array of multi-billion greenback firms like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are incentivized to purchase recycled items and scale back their supplies prices.

On the availability facet, ~300 million tons of trash are generated yearly in the US. Estimates counsel that as much as 75% of that’s recyclable.

On paper, it appears clear that maximizing the quantity of trash the US recycles is in everybody’s curiosity. One challenge although, lower than a 3rd of the trash finally ends up recycled.

Areeb, co-founder of Glacier, breaks down the multi-layered reasoning behind why the Recycling trade can not deal with this quantity of trash, and what Glacier is doing to deal with this.

Areeb Malik

Areeb Malik is the Co-Founding father of Glacier, and he’s on a private mission to battle local weather change and extract worth from the $123B price of recyclables that fill the landfills and oceans. Earlier than founding Glacier, Areeb was a Software program Engineer at Fb, the place he used Machine Studying and Laptop Imaginative and prescient to construct out new product options.



Areeb Malik: Thanks a lot for having me, Abate.

Abate: Earlier than we dive into what glacier is doing, I’d love to only get an summary of the recycling trade.

Areeb Malik: Yeah, certain. I believe the recycling and the waste trade is a kind of spots that we as customers, you recognize, rely actually closely upon. Most of us don’t actually know the way it works. And that was definitely the case with me earlier than I began working at Glacier. it’s fairly fascinating. It’s a, it’s a very massive trade.

There are plenty of gamers concerned and there’s some huge cash that form of flows by way of behind the scenes. I believe one thing that individuals don’t take into consideration is we spend fairly a bit of cash each month having our trash and our recycling and our compost simply magically disappear from our curbs. Proper?

It’s like many multiples of what we pay for our Netflix subscriptions. it goes to, it goes to the waste trade. and the rationale for that’s cuz it’s plenty of work behind the scenes. usually talking, I’ll form of run by way of it at a excessive degree.

_*How does recycling work? *_

Properly, you as a client otherwise you as a enterprise, take your recycling bin out to the curb. That’s kinda the top of your involvement.

A truck comes over. These vehicles are referred to as _*haulers*_ within the trade. they dump your entire bins into their truck and drive round, click on all of your neighbor’s stuff and take it to a facility. Often called a “supplies restoration facility” or a MRF (Pronounced “Merf”) for shorts.

Love the identify Merf.

Um, that MRF’s job is to kind. So you set a bunch of stuff into the bin plenty of it wasn’t recyclable as a result of as a client, you may not know what’s recyclable or isn’t. after which throughout the stuff that’s really recyclable it must be sorted aside. Trigger if you wish to really do one thing with these recyclable commodities, it’s essential kind the bottles aside from the cans, aside from the cardboard. Et cetera.

Um, this massive sorting problem is kind of laborious to do. we are able to dive extra into how they do it trigger that’s the place our firm focuses. however to only provide the subsequent steps in what occurs is, you recognize, this MRF creates, as an example, an enormous pile of aluminum cans. What it does is then condenses these cans right into a cubic block, referred to as a bale, and sells these bales to what we name a reclaimer or a recycler who buys what they hope is only one commodity.

Proper? So as an example, aluminum.

Um, they take that they usually do some course of with it to show it again into both extra aluminum cans or another materials that may be produced from recycled aluminum that occurs for plastics that occurs for cardboard. That occurs for a bunch of various commodities.

Um, and the rationale that is that is vital is as a result of that aluminum can and that plastic bottle, there’s plenty of vitality, plenty of potential vitality kinda saved in that commodity.

Um, and in case you’re producing one thing new it’s really much more* vitality environment friendly* to make use of that *recycled commodity* than to go mine for uncooked ore, or get the petroleum for the brand new plastic bottle, or no matter you may be doing. And so that you really get actually massive vitality financial savings through the use of recycled commodities as an alternative of utilizing virgin inventory.

Um, in order that’s type, that’s kinda within the overview, clearly that, that reclaimer that recycler sells uncooked aluminum or uncooked plastic chips to some producer who makes new bottles or shirts or footwear or no matter, no matter they should.

Abate: Yeah. And does that vitality saving that you just get from recycling? Does that additionally switch right into a decrease total price than getting it from the Virgin materials?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, completely.

in case you’re a producer of aluminum cans, there are two methods you possibly can produce them, proper?

You possibly can both pay for the uncooked supplies. that’s gonna come within the type of aluminum, that aluminum that comes from uncooked supplies is gonna should pay for the mining and the transport and, and all the pieces that’s concerned.

The, you recognize, Distillation of their uncooked ore into precise aluminum, all the pieces that goes in that course of versus you should purchase aluminum from a recycler. that comes from all they needed to do was take a bunch of cans and soften them down and clear them up somewhat bit. and so it’s really so much cheaper as a result of that recycler didn’t spend as a lot time or effort form of getting those who, that uncooked aluminum to you.

So, yeah. If we take a look at aluminum energy-wise, a recycled aluminum can takes 97% much less vitality to provide than a virgin can. I can’t inform you precisely what which means financially, however you possibly can, you possibly can form of think about the associated fee financial savings that come together with that.

Abate: Yeah, no, that’s an enormous [00:05:00] distinction. and so when, you recognize, you talked about aluminum, so there are positively sure supplies which might be extra helpful to the companies who’re gonna be very incentivized at this level to really spend money on recycled supplies than different ones. What can be the hierarchy of the very helpful recyclable parts after which those that possibly we recycle, however it’s not as clear minimize that there’s a monetary motive to take action?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, that’s a very good query. And it’s, it’s not a simple one. Sadly, the straightforward hierarchy I may give you proper now could be that metals are Supreme. Metals are nice as a result of, with aluminum or metal, they’re what we name infinitely recyclable. Proper? You possibly can take a can soften it down, form it into a brand new can, put a drink in it, return it, soften it down make a brand new can and go in circles ceaselessly.

With one thing like plastic or, you recognize, we like to consider our plastics, not as simply plastic, however the precise sort of plastic resin. So P E T, which is your triangle one plastic as we name it. if you usually recycle plastic, you don’t really come again precisely the place you begin, you are inclined to what we name a down cycle.

And that’s why you see plenty of firms promoting shirts and footwear and luggage that have been as soon as created from plastic bottles. Trigger you possibly can really take the plastic bottle, spin it down into polyester fiber, after which promote that once more. however then if you recycle that bag, proper, is there a marketplace for that?

So that is what we name down biking. We form of go round in a circle, however we find yourself producing one thing that simply can’t be recycled on the finish of the day. and so when you consider the hierarchy of commodities yeah, like steel’s supreme, Plastics are actually helpful as a result of there’s plenty of demand for them.

Paper is fairly strong. Cardboard proper now, particularly within the pandemic, they name brown gold as a result of it’s tremendous helpful as nicely. Newspaper, workplace prints, and stuff like that begins to get much less helpful.* Glass is a very fascinating one as a result of it’s, infinitely recyclable, however it’s additionally actually heavy.*

And so if it’s a must to drive a bunch of glass bottles from one facility to a different. There’s a value to that as nicely. and in order that’s, that’s form of blended. plenty of amenities don’t cope with glass. A variety of them do it form of is dependent upon how shut their purchaser is.

Abate: Would the glass be melted down and reformed or it might simply be actually reused as it’s by the identical firm that made it?

Areeb Malik: Yeah. For probably the most half, it’s going to be melted right down to reform. Trigger that’s the method of glass is much like that of steel. Should you soften it down, it may possibly form of simply reshape.

I might think about there’s an enormous push by people who find themselves they make canned soda to make use of recyclable steel. And so How does that motivation by these industries have an effect on the recycling trade particularly “steel cans”?

Areeb Malik: Yeah. Nice query. So in case you, in case you produce cans, let’s say you’re Coke, proper?

And also you produce aluminum cans for you, you may not care concerning the recyclability and, and the inexperienced thumb side, otherwise you, you would possibly and both manner, you might have this sort of monetary incentive, proper?

You say I wish to produce a bunch of cans. I’m really prepared to pay 2 cents additional per can to be inexperienced and sustainable cuz that’s in our ESG pointers firm, no matter. both manner, what you’re taking a look at is:

okay, cool. I should buy a can that’s created from virgin materials or I should buy a can that’s created from recycled materials.

Um, I stated earlier that recycled materials is cheaper, however then, the opposite trick there’s that it’s not cheaper if there aren’t any recycled cans to purchase, proper?

So if you’re a aluminum can recycler and also you don’t have any cans coming in, nicely, you possibly can’t promote any out. And that discount in provide goes to yield larger costs.

Um, so in case you’re Coke and also you’re taking a look at these two choices, you’re gonna go together with no matter is cheaper minus that fudge issue on your ESG form of motivation.

Um, However, you recognize, if we are able to get the recycled can to be extra ample and we are able to make it cheaper for that recycled can flip into uncooked aluminum once more, then Coke is impulsively… It doesn’t actually matter in the event that they’re a inexperienced thumb or not. They’re going to be incentivized to buy recycled inventory.

As a result of it’s cheaper and that’s form of what the target of the recycling trade is. And that’s what the target of my firm glacier is, in addition to Can we manipulate the economics of recycling such that it doesn’t actually matter in case you’re, you recognize, attempting to do good by the planet or not? The financially sensible factor to do is to purchase recycled.

Um, and that’s the, that’s the target that the target, I believe we’re all pushing towards.

Abate: Do you might have any thought what share of the particular items, the cans which might be being produced, are being recycled?

Areeb Malik: Yeah. it’s an awesome query. I believe if I zoom into cans, I don’t have that quantity off the highest of my head. And I believe one of many issues that you just and I’ll form of unearth over the course of this dialog is there’s not plenty of good information on this trade. it may not shock you, however if you throw your bottle into the recycling, then no person’s actually monitoring that bottle at that time.

Um, and so there’s some data on the market, however it’s not very strong. what I can inform you is that throughout the US, we recycle about [00:10:00] 30% of our waste stream. So the opposite 70% is both non-recyclable or is simply by no means recovered. estimates proper now say that we might recycle as much as 75%. So in case you take a look at the quantity of trash we generate per yr that’s 300 million tons throughout the US.

30% of that, that’s a few hundred million is recycled or composted. however that remaining there’s one other 45% chunk that may very well be recycled or composted that isn’t being captured. and* that’s clearly an enormous downside,* proper? And that’s gonna come to:

A. Customers, not recycling correctly.

B. Packaging is being made in a manner such that it’s simply not recyclable.

C. The markets not current for sure sorts of recyclables.

As an illustration, a plastic bag in concept, sure. Might be recycled, however there’s no marketplace for it. And so all of this stuff form of mixed collectively to say, yeah, we’ve got 45% of the best way stream that may very well be recycled. That’s not at the moment being captured.

Um, how a lot of, you recognize, I’m certain the people who find themselves placing stuff within the rubbish can within the recycling bins, they’re not pondering that 70% of the stuff that they’re placing in there’s not recyclable.

Abate: They’re pondering it’s possibly 90% and possibly threw in a single factor that they’re form of iffy about. so how a lot of this can be a simply client error? How a lot of that is the issue of the packaging? The individuals who make the packaging are considerably deceptive about whether or not or not it’s recycling. And is that this, a form of authorities initiative that should occur that really modifications this?

Areeb Malik: Yeah. I might, I might say it’s it, it’s simple accountable the patron right here, however I might argue that it’s actually not the patron’s fault. I’ve been working within the recycling trade for 3 years now and I nonetheless have hassle. With like a yogurt container. I’m like, ah, like which bin does this go in? and it’s, it’s actually laborious to inform and it, the issue is like, it varies primarily based on the person packaging.

It varies on the place within the nation you’re, what does your native MRF really settle for and type? All of those questions form of are very opaque. There’s no clear reply. And so you possibly can’t actually blame the patron for this at this level. It’s, it’s such a tough downside to unravel. No surprise they will’t determine it out.

Um, I believe the most important wrongdoer proper now could be the truth that producers produce with out interested by the top of lifetime of their product. So plenty of instances you’ll go to the grocery retailer and also you’ll get a factor a package deal or no matter, and it’ll be a mixture as an example of a number of supplies. an awesome instance of that is Tetra pack.

Tetra pack is ubiquitous field for holding liquids or in juices, milk, no matter. and Tetra pack itself is fabricated from a number of layers of various commodities. So you bought paper, plastic, aluminum, all within the linings, and it does an awesome job preserving your drinks, however that materials is tremendous unrecoverable as a result of how are you gonna peel the plastic and the aluminum aside, after which extract the aluminum.

All of that form of stuff, proper. There are processes in place for this, however as a client, such as you’re not supposed to have the ability to do something. And if it’s a must to take a look at who’s accountable there, nicely, couldn’t you really produce a container that’s designed for a superb finish of life, if you’re some juice producer and also you wish to be sure that your juice carton does have a superb place within the round economic system?

Um, and sadly to my unique level, proper? Like they don’t care about this. What issues to them is having the ability to produce so much, and do it at an affordable value. And they also go together with no matter makes probably the most sense. once more, the dream of recycling is can we make what makes probably the most sense of commodity that has excellent circularity?

Abate: Yeah. And so the native MRFs, these are, are these personal establishments or are these authorities establishments?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, for probably the most half, they’re privately owned. A few ’em are privately owned by public firms and about 10% are owned by municipalities.

And you recognize, one, one factor that you just additionally talked about earlier, there’s like these totally different classes which you could take your recycled trash and put it into metals, plastics, et cetera. However in lots of people’s houses, all you might have is a single blue recycling bin that you just throw all the pieces into. precisely.

Abate: Yeah. So, after which is that this, is that this part of the problem? Is that this a authorities factor the place they’re not sending out the fitting bins to everyone’s homes, the place they want to have the ability to kind it out individually by themselves?

Areeb Malik: it’s a, that’s a very fascinating query. It’s, it’s actually laborious to get good information on what would work right here. So I’ll offer you a pair examples. A variety of facil.., plenty of, plenty of communities across the nation, they provide what we name twin stream recycling, the place you even have two recycling bins, proper.

And the standard manner they divide that’s containers. That’s gonna be your glass, plastic, cans, metal, no matter. After which paper all the pieces that’s, cardboard, mail, no matter. and there’s this idea referred to as twin stream recycling. It was really an enormous factor again within the seventies, eighties, nineties, however it began to get phased out as a result of they discovered that individuals, *customers like didn’t have the psychological vitality to do that.*

They usually discovered that if we get everyone to dump all the pieces into one bin, we’ll a minimum of seize all of the stuff we care about, which is primarily metals and plastics. Proper. And so this [00:15:00] change went into, into place as a result of it simply made sense for, for an trade that didn’t actually have the, the energy to deal with this a lot form of inbound.

However what they ended up with is one other downside the place now all the pieces’s blended collectively. the, the opposite factor to consider is like what, what if each client was chargeable for like dividing all the pieces into each particular person commodity sort? clearly I, you possibly can hear that and be like, that sounds, that sounds tiring.

Even, I might say that sounds tiring, cuz like I stated earlier than, I nonetheless have hassle splitting a factor into the rights, the fitting location, even with simply two bins. there are communities, very small communities that do that. There’s an awesome one which you could examine in Japan, the place I believe they’ve like 30 or 40 various things, it’s a must to kind your trash into you carry your bag over to somewhat constructing.

And there’s a man in there who helps you kind all of the elements and like, yeah, that like works for purity’s sake, however like how many individuals are literally gonna do this versus simply dump all of it into the, the landfill. Prefer it, it’s a, it’s a tough commerce off to play with and we don’t have plenty of good information to say which one actually works higher

Abate: An fascinating factor about the US, the dimensions of rubbish is simply considerably larger than plenty of different international locations. partially as a result of we’re producing extra rubbish per individual and likewise partially is a really massive nation. yeah.

Areeb Malik: We’re by inhabitants, I believe one twentieth or so of the world, however we produce 40% of its trash. So we’re somewhat bit skewed in our ratios there.

Abate: What’s the scale of the particular trash being produced? Have you learnt what it’s per individual?

Areeb Malik: So if we take a look at the us once more, we’re taking a look at about 300 million tons of trash per yr. That’s that’s recyclable, compostable captured, not captured plus all the pieces that ought to go to landfill of that 300 million, like I stated, 30% a few hundred million is definitely recycled or composted.

Should you simply form of take that into, you recognize, the inhabitants within the US, which I believe got here out to 330 million in 2021, we’re taking a look at about for a family of 4. you’re taking a look at about one ton of recyclables, not recycled yearly. So each single home, a automotive’s weight of, of stuff goes not recycled proper now as a result of we don’t have the infrastructure behind the scenes really deal with it nicely.

Um, and in case you take that quantity to the highest, you’re taking a look at that three tons of stuff, consumed three tons of recyclables that you just eat, as a family. and a few of that will get recycled.

Abate: Yeah, which is a mind-blowing quantity. It’s so much that you possibly can be recapturing and reselling.

Areeb Malik: Yeah, positively. It’s so much to be recapturing. It’s so much to consider, like, *why can we eat a lot?* how are these different international locations, these different folks world wide getting by, with out doing it? lot of, lot of questions that I elevate and hopefully, you recognize, for the listeners now, they’re like, that’s elevating some eyebrows, like, oh my gosh, my home is producing three tons of recyclable stuff, and solely one among it’s getting recovered.

Abate: A sure portion of that might be companies and different massive industries which might be additionally producing waste, not simply the one the households.

Areeb Malik: Yeah, completely. Yeah. It’s, it’s definitely not simply on households. Clearly, this quantity comes from you as an individual. You realize, you throw some stuff in your bin at house. Typically you go to Starbucks and also you toss it into the road, trash cans, all, all that stuff form of comes collectively. however it’s definitely an issue, irrespective of the way you take a look at it.

Abate: So what’s glacier’s method to this downside?

Areeb Malik: Yeah. So I talked somewhat bit about that MRF proper? Their job is to kind and the sorting, in case you take a look at form of the worldwide image of recycling from our opinion, the sorting piece has the most important worth so as to add with the smallest quantity of effort. And so it looks as if there are plenty of wins available on this sorting piece.

And the rationale for that is twofold. One is having the ability to drive the price of that sorting down will drive the price of that materials down. So we talked about that Coke instance if you will get the price of the recycle can down. Then you definately’re gonna be extra incentivized as Coke to buy recycled cans.

And one of many massive drivers of price goes to be the sortation piece. I’ll notice that one other massive driver of price, which we should always not ignore proper now could be freight. The transport of stuff from one place to the opposite, simply driving tons and tons of trash round clearly prices so much. But when we’re taking a look at that sorting downside, it’s a massive downside proper now.

And it’s an issue that would use plenty of assist. so what we do at Glacier is we make expertise that helps that sortation course of. in case you look inside one among these MRFs, you’re gonna see basically two sorts of sorting processes. One, I like to think about high-quantity, low-quality sortation.

In order that they use machines utilizing spinning discs or magnets or one thing form of heavy steel, old skool expertise that does a very good job processing plenty of stuff. and it may possibly kind, as an example, massive items of cardboard aside from small plastic bottles. [00:20:00] however I stated low high quality as a result of it’d both finish the like high-density to low-density piece.

As an illustration, you’re gonna see plenty of stuff that shouldn’t have been there. As an illustration, in case you’re attempting to kind paper aside from all the pieces else, utilizing a density sorter, you’re gonna find yourself with plenty of plastic movies, and plastic luggage within the paper stream. So you might have this high quality that’s, that’s an issue.

Um, and related on the draw back on the flip facet you might have,

Abate: That is with none extra computer systems, or processing? It is a utterly mechanical method?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, precisely. These are utterly mechanical approaches to sorting. they’re getting barely smarter, however they’re, it’s, it’s fairly form of blind because it stands at present.

After which on the flip facet, there are the high-quality, low-quantity sorting methods. What that approach is is, is folks whose job is to face above conveyor belts and type by way of what these machines didn’t get proper. and likewise to kind by way of stuff, to forestall the machines from getting damage within the first place. You could have lots of people inside these amenities doing, and, and I believe they do an awesome job, proper?

Like an individual’s eyes and an individual’s fingers are improbable. by way of doing the sort of process, however there’s solely a lot a, an individual can do. the disadvantage there, in fact, is that individuals are additionally very costly. and so in case you’re attempting to drive the prices of this finish output down folks’s a very difficult possibility to drag on.

Uh, the opposite difficult factor about that’s that individuals are actually laborious to rent for these, these roles. as you may think, it’s not essentially a really fascinating job. we’ve got spoken to a number of amenities throughout the nation and all of them echo the identical grievance. It’s identical to yeah my individuals are like, it’s actually laborious to get folks to do that job.

Uh, we talked to a facility up in Michigan they usually have a station or a facility that has had 30 sorting stations out there within the final two years. The most individuals that they had within the facility on a given day was fourteen. So that you’re taking a look at plenty of amenities that identical to can not presumably fill all of the spots they want.

And since you might have the excessive amount, low-quality machines working and also you don’t have sufficient high-quality, low-quantity folks doing the QC you find yourself producing low-quality outputs. Whenever you produce low-quality output,, you promote it for much less. The customer has to do extra sorting. The top output that they produce is decrease high quality.

Um, and so form of all the pieces is degraded by this, this sorting downside not being accomplished effectively and prime quality sufficient.

So let me sit again as much as “what does Glacier do?” as a result of that was the unique query. *What we do is we construct robots.*

* W**e use pc imaginative and prescient to look down at a conveyor belt inside one among these amenities and determine each single factor that’s coming down that belt**.*

Um, we are able to classify. Mainly, you recognize, recyclers consider commodities in a really particular manner. And so we simply know that code and say that’s P E T that’s HCP that’s an aluminum can, no matter it may be. we are able to use pc imaginative and prescient to do this. After which we cross that data to a robotic sorting system that may then separate issues on a belt, nevertheless, it wants.

Um, and so it’s very dynamic. It’s very adaptable. It’s very simple to put in inside these amenities. and the concept is mainly right here’s like a, an possibility that you just as a facility can use. Should you’re, in case you can’t even rent these roles, right here’s a manner which you could really drive the price of your operations down and we hope additionally the standard of your operations up.

Abate: Yeah. So in case you, in case you have been to assist us visualize what this technique appears to be like like, is it a conveyor belt with a digicam on prime and two robotic arms which might be, you recognize, like what precisely does it appear like?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a superb query. So I believe the very first thing you wanna visualize is these amenities these amenities, they fluctuate place to put, however usually talking, you might have a number of layers, a number of flooring, and on every of these flooring, there are conveyor belts. There are these massive machines I talked about earlier.

They do some form of sorting plenty of loud noise. all the pieces’s form of transferring all over the place without delay. Very chaotic. And I believe very usually you don’t have plenty of house, proper? These, these locations are fairly tight. Such as you stroll round belts and there are folks saying that there are shoots over right here to drop stuff in. Not a ton of house so as to add new gear through which is among the tips of working in these amenities.

Proper. You possibly can’t simply say, Hey, like right here’s a 20 by 20 sq.… or 20 foot by 20-foot machine that may come and like, do your sorting. Trigger like, they’re like, “Properly, how am I gonna match that in?”

So think about that house, you might have some conveyor belt someplace that’s transferring stuff alongside. what we do is we mainly construct a machine that straddles that conveyor belt.

Um, so with out having do any retrofits or main retrofits to your facility. We simply pop a machine proper on prime of your conveyor belt. there’s a digicam that sits somewhat bit upstream of the robots and appears immediately down at it. Makes use of pc imaginative and prescient to, like I stated, classify all the pieces coming by way of and the robotic itself.

Uh, yeah, you really, you bought the quantity, proper. We do use two arms. however the thought is mainly a sequence of robotic arms that may mainly reply to pc imaginative and prescient. choose up gadgets off the conveyor belt. Transfer ’em to some location, whether or not that’s a bin that they’re amassing in or a shoot that takes it to a different belt, or a separate belt altogether, and drive it to wherever they should drop this merchandise.

[00:25:00] We drop the merchandise there.

Abate: Yeah. So, you recognize, and simply interested by this from a robotics viewpoint, there are positively plenty of challenges with trash. they’re random sizes and styles and possibly somewhat bit moist, probably, like who is aware of? Proper. so how, how can you overcome the problem of having the ability to choose up particular person items and transfer them to particular person containers or different belts?

Areeb Malik: yeah, yeah. It’s a very good query. And that’s, that is among the hardest issues that we’ve got to cope with, cuz you’re completely proper. I’ll get to the moist piece later, however like, in case you simply think about a plastic bottle, like only one plastic bottle, identical model, identical dimension, like there are a thousand ways in which factor comes down the belt.

Um, it may be crumpled in numerous methods. It may be crammed with water or not. It may be obfuscated by another materials. And so you might have this actually laborious problem. The roboticists on right here will perceive, choose and place is among the holy grail challenges of robotics at present.

Um, and there are PhD packages devoted to designing a gripper that may do in addition to the human hand. our problem in fact, is that we wish to make one thing that’s excessive ROI for these amenities. and is, is maintainable, proper? If I construct you a $500,000, you recognize, robotic arm that may solely are you aware, three gadgets a minute, or, you recognize, 10 gadgets a minute.

That’s not ok for these amenities. so how can we overcome it? It’s, it’s a, it’s a growth. I believe it’s positively like a, a degree of focus for our firm. And one of many issues that our engineers are working actually laborious on interested by, proper? Like how do you design finish effectors that stability excessive throughputs with the flexibility to efficiently choose as a lot as potential?

And we’ve got a metric internally that we name our choose charges and getting that factor near 100 is the dream. However in case you take a look at simply applied sciences on the market, even the perfect robots, aren’t hitting 100% choose fee for gadgets. And that’s one thing that we’ve got to only cope with to the wetness piece, to the dirtiness piece.

Yeah. Like that simply makes it tougher. Proper? In case you have a grimy bottle coming by way of. You possibly can most likely choose it up the primary time, however that’s going to clog up plenty of your parts and that makes the reliability of your machine harder. So how do you choose an merchandise that’s soiled with out inflicting challenge to your machine, or relatively, how do you design a machine?

That’s simple to scrub and simple to replace elements when it will get too soiled. that may sense when it’s not choosing nicely and alert the upkeep staff. Hey, like, are you able to come clear my, you recognize, like gears or hose or no matter that must be cleaned as a result of it’s gotten gunky. these are all challenges that I believe are very accessible inside robotics.

Um, however no person’s ever thought of these issues within the context of, of trash. And so the issues that we get to unravel you recognize, on our personal over right here, which is fairly thrilling. however they’re, they’re I believe, I believe they’re, they’re, they’re doable. They’re actually achievable challenges, which is, I believe the thrilling factor about being right here.

It doesn’t really feel prefer it’s unachievable in our present context.

Abate: Yeah. And one profit is that, though you wanna clearly maximize the quantity of things that you just choose up and drop. You’re actually, you’re actually maximizing for getting good ROI and having the ability to replicate what an individual can do, however do it 24/ 7 versus eight hours a day and, and do it at scale. So even in case you say miss a water bottle, that simply goes into your percentages and also you issue that out, and possibly it’s not the top of the world as a result of an individual might additionally simply miss one thing or, worse off, not even be working as a result of it’s 6:00 PM

Areeb Malik: Positively, And that’s one of many good issues about being in our house. You realize, I take into consideration my colleagues within the self-driving automotive house and, and in case you’re doing self-driving automobiles, there are lot of those different robots. Like you aren’t allowed to make errors, that robotic can not fail.

Um, and also you spend plenty of efforts form of engaged on the 0.99999. Proper. whereas for us, like, yeah, it’s wonderful. If we. 0.98 prefer it’s, it’s like, it’s a really excessive ROI machine if we get to that time. So it’s completely okay if we make these errors. And what that enables us to do is it permits us to give attention to the larger image.

We don’t get caught up within the particulars and we are able to really do, is say, okay, cool. Like this machine works 98% effectively. Like, what else, what else does does recycling want? What different robotics do we have to deal with your, how do we have to evolve this machine to deal with this set up location or this commodity sort or, or no matter it may be.

Abate: Yeah. And so additionally to again it as much as the software program facet, there’s additionally object detection and classification placing this factor into teams. is that, or can you leverage some open supply sources on the market? Is that this already a remedy downside or is that this one other massive problem of your organization?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, it’s, it’s a superb query. I believe usually we wish to construct issues in home right here. One of many issues that’s distinctive about what we’re constructing is it’s a robotic customized design for the recycling trade. [00:30:00] plenty of instances what you are able to do is you possibly can go take an off the shelf robotic system and simply plop it into place and say, okay, like right here’s a, right here’s a Delta robotic.

Um, I’m going to place it into this trade and I’m gonna connect some, you recognize, primary processing software program, however all the pieces else form of goes pre-written. the issue with that’s that these off the shelf, robots, these form of customized generic, or sorry, these generic robots they have a tendency to not hit the ROI marks that these amenities are searching for.

And so we, our complete premise is that if we construct a customized robotic, proper? It’s like from the bottom up, that is designed to be optimum for these recycling amenities. Will they prefer it extra and the suggestions we bought actually early on and we proceed to get as sure, like that’s, that could be a big win for them. Cuz it’s easier.

It’s simpler to take care of. It’s simpler to put in all of these items in terms of the software program. That additionally means we’ve got to jot down it ourselves. you are able to do some stuff off the shelf. however usually talking like. Should you, if you wish to customise it and make it very particular to a recycling facility.

Yeah. It does contain plenty of customized software program to be written as nicely. it’s form of enjoyable. you get to unravel challenges which might be actually distinctive. Like I stated, lots of people have solved issues for choose and place, however not lots of people have thought concerning the, the precise points that come contained in the recycling house.

Like we have been speaking about, what if a bottle is soiled? Like what do you do about it? and so, yeah, customized software program as nicely, customized, it’s all, it’s all customized. And the concept is that if we are able to customise the machine. we are able to construct a machine that these amenities are literally gonna profit from. That’s finally our objective is to assist them do their recycling and their sortation higher.

Abate: Mm. So, after which simply to get an image of the make-up of your staff at glacier, are you guys one thing like 50% software program engineers, 50% additionally some {hardware} and hardcore robotics folks.

Areeb Malik: Yeah, that sounds about proper. I believe that’s that that’s a reasonably good break up. I might, I might say like as founder, proper? I used to be a software program engineer earlier than this. and if I take a look at What I’m constructing at present versus what I used to construct. you want so many disciplines of engineering to make this work, proper.

We’d like CV engineers, generalist software program engineers, firmware engineers, electrical engineers, the entire, the entire slew of engineering. And so, yeah, we’ve got a reasonably broad spectrum. We’re a small firm. So everybody will get form of like stretch their wings and form of discover into like totally different realms. however yeah, I might say on the entire we’re, we’re form of divided alongside the, the software program {hardware} line, like about 50%.

Abate: Yeah. Yeah. And so I additionally know your staff simply very not too long ago got here out of stealth mode and also you’re positively nonetheless very a lot a startup. Have you ever guys already began or planning on quickly doing a pilot at a sorting facility and having the ability to try it out in actual time.

Areeb Malik: Yeah. So I can’t identify too many names, however we’ve got accomplished two pilots already and we’ve got a 3rd one which’s ongoing at the moment. and so we’ve got put these machines on the market. It’s nice to see them run. It’s at all times so enjoyable. Simply activate our, our, you recognize, nanny cams and be like, oh appear like there’s our robots sorting by way of recyclables.

How cool. and so, yeah, we, we, we’ve got a pair pilots form of underway we’re at a degree as an organization the place the target proper now could be mainly refine this machine. So it’s. It’s it’s excellent. Proper. We, we all know that these clients, like, they don’t perceive why constructing these things is tough. They only need a machine that works.

Um, and so our goal is to get the machine to work so nicely, they don’t even give it some thought, proper. As a buyer, you simply wanna be like, okay, cool. I’ll purchase this robotic. You put in it. And then you definitely by no means give it some thought once more. And we wanna get to that time. In order that’s the place plenty of the main focus is true now.

Um, by way of, by way of what we’re creating on the engineering facet.

Abate: So that you’ve now you’ve put in this technique in a pair totally different locations. Are there any key learnings that you just’ve gathered from seeing this really in place inside a, a buyer’s sorting facility they usually’re really getting their fingers on it and utilizing it. And now they’re sitting there evaluating this to what an individual can be doing two months in the past.

Areeb Malik: Yeah, it’s a, a very good query, I believe from their perspective, proper? Like in fact they’ll evaluate this to an individual and robots and individuals are they’re, you recognize, analogs, however they function very in a different way from one another. as I form of talked about earlier, like an individual. They’re our fingers are so good.

I’ve seen folks pull a can out of a plastic cup earlier than they usually take the, can they put into the can pile, take the plastic cup, they put within the… Like robots by no means gonna have the ability to do this. Not less than not, not in like the subsequent 10 years. Proper? That’s not one thing we’re attempting to realize. And so getting them to grasp this distinction, like this isn’t a defacto alternative on your folks.

It’s a sorting expertise that helps you obtain higher high quality at decrease prices. That’s what we’re promising. in case you take a look at the learnings we’ve, we’ve made to this point, I might say. These set up areas, they’re wildly totally different, proper? You possibly can’t simply make one robotic that does one factor. and put it right into a, accomplished a dozen totally different areas, cuz every set up… the scale of the belt, the, the quantity of density on the belt, the commodities you’re choosing, the place are you taking it to?

All these things, modifications, set up to put in. and so one of many, the nice issues about robotics is you possibly can, [00:35:00] you possibly can program the software program to be very dynamic, proper? And you’ll say this, this {hardware}. It appears to be like similar to that {hardware}, however these robots are literally very totally different on the within due to how they’re configured due to how they suppose primarily based on the stuff that’s coming down the road.

So having the ability to construct expertise that’s dynamic sufficient to deal with all kinds of conditions I believe is, is vital to our success.

Abate: Yeah. And are there different robotics gamers within the recyclable trade?

Areeb Malik: Yeah, there are just a few which might be possibly a few years older than us at this level. Should you take a look at the market as a complete, it’s, it’s positively very nascent. A variety of the amenities we discuss to have heard about these different recyclable sorry, these recycling robots. and plenty of them are, are ready for the time to be proper or they’re ready for his or her subsequent retrofit to suit them in.

Um, however in case you take a look at form of the market as a complete. Most amenities have heard about them, however haven’t put in our robots. in case you look form of past the robots of like, what else is gonna occur to those amenities? You step inside one among these amenities and also you’re gonna be fast to see like, oh, there are like 15 optimizations we might do.

Um, and so, you recognize, robots first you recognize, there’s comp opponents, however there’s plenty of house. After which past the robots, there’s a ton of alternative to only construct out expertise that helps these amenities and helps the recycling trade function extra effectively.

Abate: mm-hmm yeah. So what’s subsequent at glacier?

Areeb Malik: What’s subsequent at Glacier, will we take over the recycling trade and repair the world?

Is, is the top?? That’s subsequent.

what are we doing? So I form of talked about we’ve got these two prototypes the target technically is to get the machines, to be nearly as good as potential. after which begin getting them into extra you recognize, amenities throughout the nation at that time, proper? Like as soon as we get this machine down and we are able to really identical to, press the rocket ship button on it get this stuff all over the place.

My imaginative and prescient is that one arm of glacier is these robots. And the query turns into, what else? What else can glacier do with our standing within the trade, with the expertise we’ve got with the folks we’ve got on our staff? How else can we positively affect how we as a society deal with our waste?

Um, and there’s plenty of alternative there. There are plenty of concepts. There are plenty of issues we have to vet out within the markets.

Um, however as I discussed earlier than, this trade is de facto massive and it might positively use somewhat bit of affection from the tech trade. So we’re hoping to form of get the robotic up and working. Let that form of be an arm of the enterprise after which give attention to what comes subsequent.

How can we subsequent enhance our you recognize, means to, to take stuff away from the landfills and get it again into the economic system? is it compost? Is it information? There’s a complete, complete slew of issues we may very well be going into. we, at this firm, by no means name ourselves a robotics firm. We think about ourselves a recycling expertise firm.

Um, and so what comes subsequent is, is no matter we are able to do greatest to assist this trade align.

Abate: mm-hmm. superior. Superior. What’s a great way for folks to comply with up on glacier and your progress?

Areeb Malik: Yeah. So we’re, we’re engaged on our search engine marketing, however in case you in case you go Google search us, you’ll discover our LinkedIn, our Twitter, all that form of stuff, which we’re clearly you recognize, posting on usually with updates. we even have an internet site which is

Um, and so you possibly can go over there to take a look at somewhat demo of the machine and form of see what it appears to be like like, cuz I can’t clarify it nicely sufficient with my phrases. however you recognize, check out what it appears to be like like, see our open roles, all that form of stuff.

Abate: Thanks. Thanks for talking with us.

Areeb Malik: After all it was, it was nice and it’s like I stated, it’s, it’s very thrilling to be sharing this data with folks as a result of I believe everybody must know somewhat bit extra about how recycling works.


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Abate De Mey
Founding father of Fluid Dev, Hiring Platform for Robotics

Abate De Mey
Founding father of Fluid Dev, Hiring Platform for Robotics


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