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Robo-recyclers revolutionize Outagamie County's recycling game

Posted at 5:26 PM, Mar 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-20 18:26:51-04

APPLETON (NBC 26) — Meet Outagamie County's recycling heroes: The robots revolutionizing recycling efficiency.

  • Recycling in our neighborhood is getting a helping hand... but it's not human.
  • Tri-county recycling employed four new robots to sort materials.
  • Video shows the speedy robots in action.

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

I’m your Appleton neighborhood reporter Olivia Acree and this is Outagamie County’s new recycling robot. Its job is to fish out containers like milk jugs and the county says it's changing the way we recycle.

These recycling robots are the newest employees at the Outagamie County recycling center, part of the tri-county coalition with Brown and Winnebago Counties. Jordan Hiller at Outagamie County Recycling explained how the robots work.

“This robot behind me filters out for HDPE naturals so think like your milk jugs,” said Jordan Hiller, Outagamie County Recycling and Solid Waste.

Hiller says the robots can pick out anywhere from 45 to 70 items a minute, while the human hand just around 35 to 40.

They're moving tons of items each day and Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson put into perspective just how much.

“We have recycled enough aluminum here at this facility to make 16 million beer cans,” said Tom Nelson, Outagamie County Executive.

Hiller says they faced staffing shortages for a few years, so the robots help sort our recycling more efficiently.

“We were running around 50% for I would say the last few years so with the installation of these robots were really able to allocate those staff members to other parts of the facility,” said Hiller.

Hiller says employees that used to work where the robots now pick plastic were moved to other areas of the facility. Moves, he says, that put them in a good position to grow even more.

“As our community grows our recycling is going to grow,” said Hiller.

Nelson says he's proud of the county's efficiency. The industry non-recycling residual average is 15-20% and Outagamie's is just under 5%.

“Were able to increase the quantity of material that is saved from going to the landfill and is also going back out to these manufacturers to be made into new products,” said Hiller.

Tri-county recycling wants your help naming the robots. This link takes you to their website.