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Automating Plastic Bag Recycling: From Handcraft to Robotics

In the realm of recycling and sustainability, a remarkable transformation is underway—one that could change how we recycle and reuse plastic bags. Here, we delve deep into the mechanics of this inventive approach, exploring the journey from manual craftsmanship to the exciting prospects of automation and robotics.

Before we embark on this technical odyssey, let's take a step back and uncover the heart of the process. It starts with something seemingly mundane: plastic bags, from delivery, shopping, or those that find their way into our lives at grocery stores. These bags, often destined for landfills or melting, are the unsuspecting stars of our story.

We at Reuse All Detritus have developed a process of cutting bags, looping them into a chain, and spinning them into plarn- plastic yarn or rope. Currently the process is manual and electricity free, using scissors and a spinning wheel. But, imagine the possibilities of automation!

Video 1: Sorting Bags

Our process starts with sorting the piles of bags which come in through donation. First we sort by usability, taking grade A, B, and C bags (depending on storage availability), into use, while separating bags which are too dirty, thick, or otherwise ruined to use. Then, we sort the usable bags by color.

Video 2: From Strips to Plarn

Our sorted bags are then cut into loops and strips, the width of which is relative to the thickness of the plastic, so that we get a mostly consistent volume of plarn. We determine the thickness of the bags, fold them and simply cut them with scissors. Loops are best; if we have strips, we tie them together with overhand knots to form loops. These are further sorted by color, since many bags with printing have different colors on them.

Next, we chain these strips together and spin them into plarn using a foot-powered spinning wheel. Currently we need to start and stop a lot to manage the chain, and the take-up isn't able to handle the plastic material very well. The spun plarn is quite irregular, with bumps from knots and wisps.

Video 3: Plying up

With our bobbins full of plarn, we ply up from 1 to 3. This hardworking Kate can handle the bobbins, but the spinning wheel struggles a bit taking up. There is some artisanal dexterity involved in managing the 3 strands as they merge, but it all averages out in the end. The result is a 3 ply plarn that's very unique in precise color and shape, but overall is 1/2” diameter and of any color.

The Road to Robotic Recycling

So, we've walked through the intricate process of transforming plastic bags into plarn using manual craftsmanship. Now, let's set our sights on the exciting future—automation and robotics in plastic bag recycling.

But why the need for automation, you might ask? The answer lies in the scale and potential of recycling. While we've been honing our handcrafting skills, we're also acutely aware of the vast amount of plastic waste that remains untapped. With automation, we could harness the true potential of plastic bag recycling, and here are a few reasons why:

1. Efficiency Beyond Imagination: Imagine a robotic system equipped with advanced sensors that can scan a mass of plastic bags and identify their specific traits. These robots could swiftly and accurately sort items, distinguishing between clean and dirty bags, broken or intact ones, and even noting variations in color and thickness. Bags in excellent condition could be taken aside and sold for simple reuse. What might take hours manually could be achieved in mere minutes, allowing us to process larger quantities efficiently.

2. Precision Plarn Production: Automation would bring consistency to plarn production. Robots could seamlessly loop and spin plastic bags into plarn, ensuring uniformity in texture and thickness. The bumps from knots and wisps would be minimized, and the result would be plarn that's not just eco-friendly but also pristine.

3. Handling the Complexity of Plying Up: Plying up, the process of combining plarn strands, could be executed with robotic precision. Advanced machines could easily manage the three strands as they merge, achieving an even, 3-ply plarn without the need for artisanal dexterity. Robots for these processes exist within the traditional yarn, rope, and textile industry, but they are very large scale, and not easily adapted for working with used bags.

4. Round-the-Clock Recycling Perhaps the most compelling aspect of automation is the ability to run recycling facilities 24/7. Robots don't require breaks, and they can tirelessly process plastic bags day and night. This continuous operation could significantly boost recycling capacity and reduce waste accumulation.

As we venture into this exciting world of automation and robotics, we envision a future where plastic bag recycling becomes not just efficient but also environmentally impactful. It's a future where we tackle plastic waste head-on, ensuring that every bag gets a new lease on life.

Join us on this journey into the future of recycling, where innovation meets sustainability, and plastic bags find their place in a circular economy.

Robotics & AI At Reuse All Detritus

We're dedicated to pushing the boundaries of what's possible in recycling. Our vision includes creating a robotics system that works with minimal human presence, optimizing both safety and efficiency. Sensors throughout the process will inform systems and remote humans on operations, with AI making most simple decisions. We believe that technology, combined with human ingenuity, will play a pivotal role in creating a sustainable and eco-friendly world. Together, we can redefine recycling and reshape the future.

As we continue to advance on this quest to revolutionize plastic bag recycling, we invite you to be part of our journey. Share your thoughts, insights, and ideas on how automation and robotics can further enhance sustainability. Together, we'll make the vision of a cleaner, greener world a reality.

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