The Need: Like most recyclers, Evergreen had relied on manual sorting since its establishment in 1998. But as volumes have grown—Evergreen collects and processes more than one billion post-consumer PET bottles annually—manual sorting has become increasingly less feasible given the difficulty of staffing these jobs and the arduous nature of the work.
In addition to seeking a labor solution that allowed Evergreen not only to fully staff, but to reassign employees to more desirable jobs within the facility, consistency was another challenge facing the operation. Evergreen needed to ensure it was producing high-quality bales to meet the rigorous standards for the food-grade flake it provides to packaging producers.
The onset of COVID-19 exacerbated existing challenges around staffing and consistency, and added health, safety, and more to the business priorities Evergreen had to manage. The pandemic took hold around the same time Evergreen’s parent company, Greenbridge, began exploring a possible expansion of its rPET manufacturing capacity.
The Solution: Evergreen, which is one of North America’s three largest producers of food-grade recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), embarked on that major expansion project in the first half of 2021 designed to double its annual production capacity of 40 million pounds of food-grade rPET pellet to 80 million pounds. In anticipation, Greenbridge began investigating the addition of robotics and different sorting technologies at Evergreen to expand its recycling capacity.
AMP Robotics applied its experience in artificial intelligence to teach its robots to recognize clear bottles from green or opaque bottles. During the development process, a team from Evergreen traveled to AMP’s facility to conduct preliminary testing, including running an actual material stream from Evergreen through AMP’s system with results that led to pre-installation adjustments. Following evaluation and testing, Evergreen determined AMP had the best technology and support. AMP installed six custom-built AMP Cortex™ units at Evergreen’s facility in Clyde, Ohio—five in the final sorting area and the sixth on a residue line as a last-chance opportunity to pick bottles for recycling.
With robots focused on refining the quality of material, separating plastics more precisely by color, Evergreen has seen a notable improvement in purity along with pick rates of up to 120 bottles per minute—an increase of up to 200%. The robots are removing up to 90% of contamination, on average, across Evergreen’s different lines.
Moreover, the addition of AI and robotics technology has brought consistency to the operation by helping an area in the facility that was always challenging to staff run autonomously, allowing Evergreen to focus on and drive improvements in other areas of the operation. The robots offer the ability to adapt very quickly to changes in the material stream, offering an attractive alternative to time-consuming training with human sorters to absorb changes. Plus, after the robots were installed, Evergreen cross-trained its team members and moved some to more technical or high-skilled roles within the plant.
Which of the Pact’s 4 Targets does your work help achieve? Primarily Target 3: Undertake ambitious actions to effectively recycle or compost 50% of plastic packaging by 2025, but also Target 2: 100% of plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025
What makes it particularly smart or circular? In addition to PET, AMP’s AI platform precisely identifies and captures plastics including high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), and polystyrene (PS), sorted further by color, clarity, and opacity, along with different form factors—lids, tubs, clamshells, cups, and more. AMP’s technology can quickly adapt to container packaging introduced into the recycling stream with recognition capabilities to the brand level—increasingly critical as demand for sufficient quantities of high-quality recycled material grows to meet consumer packaged goods companies’ commitment to use of post-consumer recycled content.
Evergreen is a leader in the transformation of recycling processes, and its application of AI-guided sortation is increasing plastic recycling rates and helping to close the loop on PET. The plastics reclaimer is not only recovering more bottles, but at a consistently higher quality. With AMP’s technology, Evergreen is combining greater productivity with reduced contamination, generating more high-quality recycled content to meet its bottle-to-bottle recycling goals.
Results, Benefits, and Outcomes to Date: The results of its initial installation in Clyde were compelling enough that Evergreen decided to move forward with additional AMP Cortex robots for its recently acquired PET recycling facilities in Riverside, California, and Albany, New York. With 15 units installed across three facilities, Evergreen is accelerating high-quality plastics recovery with the largest deployment of AI-guided robots with a North American reclaimer.
Thanks to its expansion and infrastructure investments, Evergreen’s annual capacity of rPET has swelled to more than 147 million pounds, up from 40 million pounds one year ago. Evergreen has also increased the number of post-consumer PET bottles it collects and recycles, from two billion PET bottles annually to 11.6 billion bottles.
How are you communicating your success? We developed a written case study with a video complement about our initial installation with Evergreen to share with customers and prospects. We issued a press release earlier in 2022 timed with the Plastics Recycling Conference, where both AMP and Evergreen participated in the speaking program, about the expansion of our relationship.
What’s Next? AMP will continue to support Evergreen’s expansion and modernization efforts with our AI and automation solutions. We’ll leverage our success with Evergreen to continue to make inroads with other plastics reclaimers helping to advance a circular economy for plastics.
Quote: “As a leader in the transition to recycled PET from virgin resin, the precision and accuracy of AI-enabled robotics has allowed us to better monitor material composition throughout our operation, increase capture, and ensure high quality in the rPET resin we produce,” said Greg Johnson, Evergreen chief operating officer. “We want to recover all we can, and with AMP’s technology, we are—thereby helping to supply a higher-quality end product and a larger volume of recycled plastic for brands to source for their recycled content goals and sustainability commitments.”
Company/Organization Information: AMP Robotics was founded in 2014. Headquartered in Louisville, Colorado, we have approximately 300 employees.