Rumpke collaborates with CDME to advance waste-sorting technologies

Posted: February 9, 2023

With a $200,000 philanthropic gift to The Ohio State University Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME), Rumpke Waste & Recycling hopes to unlock ways that artificial intelligence and new automation can improve the effectiveness of recovering recycled material from the waste stream.

The gift is part of a collaboration between the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State and Rumpke to support advances in circular economy research, teaching and practices at a time when population growth in central Ohio is expected to bring new challenges to managing waste. The company is also investing in the university’s zero-waste goal by funding expanded efforts to improve recycling and waste elimination on campus.

Worldwide, 3.5 million tons of solid waste are generated daily, according to the World Bank. In a circular economy, waste is converted to valuable resources through a shift toward a closed-loop system that recovers these materials and puts them back into the production cycle.

Rumpke is currently building a new recycling center, known as a materials recovery facility, in Columbus to replace the one it currently operates. This facility will improve central Ohio’s recycling infrastructure, which also will help Ohio State move closer to its zero-waste goal of diverting 90% of its waste from landfills. A new facility with advanced sorting technologies means a higher percentage of recycled materials can be recovered from current waste streams. 

CDME’s Artificially Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (AIMS) Lab staff and students will focus on component picking, logistics stacking, automated path planning and other projects.

“We are taking AIMS Lab students and putting them on programs that allow them to work on new neural networks, new human-machine interfaces and ways for robots to run more autonomously,” said CDME Executive Director Nate Ames. “This research will develop smarter sorting systems that will be able to sort more recyclable materials than ever.”

AIMS Lab Faculty Director Michael Groeber, an associate professor in the Departments of Integrated Systems Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering, is advising an interdisciplinary team of students as part of a capstone project. The team is applying computer vision and machine learning to identify recyclable items from a waste stream, such as glass, metal, paper or trash, and categorize them for sorting. They will also use computer vision to determine the location and orientation of the objects, so that a robot controlled by an open-source operating system can physically pick and sort the items to increase the percentage of recyclable materials recovered.

“We use industry-funded projects to provide undergraduate students with hands-on experiences to get them ready to enter the workforce,” Ames said. “This collaboration will help shape the experience of many students who will eventually contribute to the next generation of advanced manufacturing.” 

Rumpke’s gift enabled CDME to hire three undergraduate research assistants to develop the technologies.

"This project is teaching me many transferrable skills for the workforce after I graduate, including image processing with neural networks, Python programming, robotic motion planning and more,” said Sarah Madigan, undergraduate student researcher. “I enjoy working in the AIMS Lab and seeing the broad applications of robotics and machine learning, while also becoming more interested in how advanced technologies can help improve sustainability."

The company will also provide Ohio State with access to its new materials recovery facility and data that could be used for faculty research and student projects.

“By collaborating with those students and being able to bring them over to our resource recycling center, we’re hoping that we excite them to the point to where they would want to come to work for Rumpke and maybe be in that environmental field,” said Jeff Snyder, director of recycling at Rumpke.

Categories: ResearchIndustry