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Science and Technology

Robots Now Part Of Rumpke's Recycling Team

Rumpke recycling center.jpg
Ann Thompson
Robots will enable Rumpke to sort faster and eventually take more items.

Three robots are at the St. Bernard recycling center and two more are to come.

Rumpke is following a national trend by adding robots to its Cincinnati recycling center. The company says the addition will do two things: increase the number of items that can eventually be recycled here and provide a cleaner product to end users.

Rumpke spent $2 million on three robots at its St. Bernard recycling plant and plans to add another next month and one other in the fall. Part of the project was paid for with a grant from a recycling partnership.

During a tour with WVXU, Rumpke Spokesperson Molly Yeager said the average worker can pick out 30 items from a fast-moving conveyor belt, compared to 70-80 picks for the robot. Only one of the three robots was working Tuesday. When they all are online that number is expected to increase.

plastic jugs Rumpke, sorted by robot.jpg
Ann Thompson
These plastic jugs were sorted by the Rumpke robots

With artificial intelligence the robots will only get smarter. Another machine is training them on what kinds of plastics to pick out.

The robots are hidden behind partitions and if you look closely, you can see an arm come down and scoop up plastics.

Yeager says look for Rumpke to take more eventually. "The tubs were the first things we were able to take and as these robots get smarter and more markets open up, we're definitely looking for the opportunity to bring more material into this plant."

Recycling Plant Employees Still Needed

Robots make mistakes, and the company says there will still be a need for Rumpke employees at the recycling plant.

Yeager wants to make that clear. But, "We're not immune to labor issues here as well. So, it definitely helps ... robots show up every day and they'll be able to move much quicker than the average human," she says.

Rumpke says the reaction to the robots so far has been positive from workers and customers.

workers on the line Rumpke.jpg
Ann Thompson
Rumpke says it will still need people for quality control because the robot does make mistakes.