Humans today produce 78 million tons of plastic packaging each year. Almost a third of that makes its way into the environment, causing enormous patches of floating refuse in our oceans, for instance, and depositing microplastics on our beaches. Another 40 percent ends up in landfills, and 14 percent is burned, resulting in air pollution. Only 2 percent of these plastics is part of a sustainable, closed-loop recycling economy.
Given that plastics production has increased twenty-fold in the past 50 years, the problem of how to increase plastics recycling to reduce pollution is thorny. And finding a solution becomes more urgent with each passing year.
To ensure we have adequate material resources and a livable planet for generations to come, society is slowly starting the shift from a linear to a circular approach to resource consumption: After raw materials are used in production and then ultimately discarded, they’re recycled and become raw materials once again.
Such closed-loop recycling is promising, but the challenges are significant. TOMRA, a Norwegian maker of resource productivity solutions, is showing that data can play a key role. The company’s innovative solutions focus on two business areas, collection (reverse vending and material recovery) and sorting (food, recycling, and mining).
The company launched in 1972 with reverse vending machines for the automated collection of used beverage containers. While this business drove significant growth, TOMRA saw even greater potential in connecting and centralizing data from different recycling systems. The company has been a leader in pushing for data transparency across recycling supply chains—sharing information on material quantity and quality, machine performance, and external data like raw-materials prices. Their approach provides business value—helping organizations optimize processes and grow their bottom lines—while creating a more circular economy.
Adding value with Microsoft and the Internet of Things
TOMRA Insight, a new digital service, uses IoT to connect recycling equipment and collect data across the recycling supply chain, leveraging big data to generate insights. TOMRA Insight customers get real-time visibility on recycling equipment, which they use to optimize efficiency and enable smart alarms. They can also connect with backend ERP and partner systems for integration with other business processes.
TOMRA turned to Microsoft and its partner Inimco to create the backbone for their technology, choosing Azure for its enterprise scale and Azure IoT and other services for their secure design. Ease of integration with other Microsoft and third-party technologies is a major benefit.
“Our machines are being installed around the world, so we needed a solution that would support our growth while maintaining the highest security standards to protect our customers’ data,” says Dr. Felix Flemming, vice president and head of digital TOMRA sorting. “Azure integrates easily into our business environment and most of our customers’.”
Partnering closely with Inimco, and benefiting from its technical and project-management expertise, TOMRA Insight built a completely new, IoT-based technology. The solution uses Azure IoT Hub to ingest data across equipment and sensors and move the data to the cloud. The full power of the Azure suite—Azure Stream Analytics, Azure Functions, Azure Cosmos DB, Azure SQL Server, and Azure Analysis Services—is applied to analyze both recycling and external data.
The business results are exciting. Customers are able to see the quality and quantity of materials in a given batch of recyclables, and make data-driven decisions about what to do next—for example, achieve a higher ROI by selling at market price by refining materials further, or ensure availability of a given material by better understanding the material streams in the recycling system.
Big plans for expansion are good news for the planet
TOMRA’s long-term vision is to continue evolving recycling supply chains with TOMRA Insight as the launch pad. They’ll be partnering closely with new customers to develop custom solutions based on specific use cases.
In the near term, TOMRA Insight technology is being folded into TOMRA’s food-sorting and mining solutions to improve capacity, yield, and energy efficiency. The company also plans to capitalize on the scalability and extendibility of Azure IoT to give recycling customers new functionality:
- Advanced analytics and visual representations of equipment efficiency.
- Deeper integration with backend systems and processes.
- Smart alarms based on process parameters.
- Machine learning-powered predictive maintenance.
TOMRA Insight, powered by IoT technology, is revolutionizing the recycling industry. Only 14 percent of all plastic packaging is collected for recycling and just one-seventh of that gets remade into the same or similar-quality application. TOMRA’s solutions have the potential to help. Recyclers are getting more visibility into the $120 billion in annual lost value from non-recycled plastics, finding efficiencies, and seeing significant competitive advantages. All while moving us toward a more circular and sustainable economy.