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Emmet County upgrades recycling operation with robotic sorting, with help of EGLE grant

Robotic recycling in Emmet CountyEmmet County upgraded its recyclable material processing technology with the help of a grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) in 2019 and now is using robotic separating equipment that has gotten the attention of local and national media.

Located on the Northern Lower Peninsula, Emmet County's recycling operation stands out as an exemplary rural program — not only in Michigan by nationally as well, says Brian Burke, EGLE recycling and waste minimization specialist. "Emmet County has a very successful recycling program and was recognized in 2015 with a Leadership in Recycling award for its high rate of recycling, increased access, and strong recycling education and outreach," he said. "The county has also been very successful in advancing the other elements of recycling programs, such as an effective county solid waste ordinance, consistent program funding and increased availability for recycling less common materials such as mattresses, plastic plant pots, and boat shrink wrap."

It's one of only two robotic recycling operations in Michigan funded by recycling infrastructure grants from EGLE. The other is the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority.

The robots sort through materials and remove what does belong there. It's anticipated Emmet County's upgraded sorting system will improve the purity of the commodities they produce for mainly Michigan businesses, with the goal being an increased revenue on the sale of the material.

More Michigan recycling operations — both public and private — will adopt robotic technology soon as well, says Burke, citing Michigan State University that will be installing robots next year with the help of an EGLE grant.

Other recycling operations are using other technology such as optical sorting equipment, glass sorting and crushing equipment, new and improved sorting screens, and balers. Many of these have received EGLE grant funding.

Burke expects more improvements in recycling in Michigan as well, as the state works toward establishing a strong circular recycling chain. "That consists of both a dependable, consistent supply of uncontaminated recycled material available and expanding Michigan's recycling content use and manufacturing businesses to utilize that material."

Photo caption: Robotic recycling in Emmet County.

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