Contxto – Humans may not be the most intuitive recyclers. No matter how many times you demonstrate how to separate organic from inorganic waste, or even glass from plastic, people seem to forget. Perhaps robots will yield better results. At least that is what Cirsys is trying to accomplish in Peru with IRBin

Recycling robot

Somewhat resembling R2D2 from Star Wars, IRBin began as a class project among classmates at Pontifical Catholic University in Lima about two years ago. These same pupils later became the founders of the tech startup, Cirsys.

After raising 11 thousand soles from the Ministry of Production and Embassy of Israel in Peru to improve its prototype, the startup competed in the Israeli Start Jerusalem competition in 2017. Since then, Cirsys has been perfecting its “social robot” capable of educating folks about properly disposing of solid waste. It specifically focuses on three types of residue: plastic bottles, glass bottles, and general trash. 

For example, today you can find IRBin in front of a supermarket in Miraflores assisting patrons with recycling. Needless to say, it’s also very popular among children. Not only is IRBin around the same size as a child but they also learn similarly, too, according to CIO Erick Carranza. 

“Thanks to artificial intelligence, learns everything they teach him and keeps what he has learned in his memory,” said Carranza. “It has the capacity to store 400 compacted plastic bottles, 200 glass bottles, and general waste.” 

Why is this important in Peru?

With public interest on the rise, Peruvians are still learning how to embrace recycling. To promote sustainability and curb waste, the nation’s Congress legislated Law 30884 in 2018 to regulate single-use plastic as well as disposable containers. 

Social enterprise EcoAyni from Lima reports that the city creates more garbage than it did 18 years ago. Out of this, only 50 percent is treated correctly, showcasing the need for recycling.

Nationally, Peru also reportedly generates over 19,000 tons of garbage a day, according to the Ministry of the Environment. On an individual level, however, Peruvians create between 800 grams and 1 kilo of waste per day.

“The recycling culture is important worldwide, so we decided to work on it,” said Carranza. “In our country, it is something that we still need to work on to make people aware of environmental care, to dispose of waste properly.”

This is where Cirsys’ solution comes into play. As the company continues to pursue mass production, it plans to install IRBins in various municipalities, universities, as well as shopping centers. Moreover, the startup reports that 50 IRBins throughout Peru would be capable of automatically recycling 2.5 million plastic bottles and 1.5 million glass bottles a year. Additional funding of US$33 thousand, though, would be required.

IRBin and the greentech market

Cirsys isn’t the only startup reinventing environmental education. The Chilean-Venezuelan startup PleIQ, for example, combines AR and QR codes to teach kids how to appropriately recycle. By placing a tablet in front of trash containers, “digital friends” appear. These characters conduct educational lessons with young learners about the importance of separating recyclable waste

Also in Chile, ReciclaApp is becoming known as the “Uber of Recycling.” Since recycling facilities are still few and far between, the startup goes door-to-door picking up other people’s rubbish. 

Out of the 23 tons of waste a year humans produce a year, only 1.9 percent gets recycled. The rest ends up in landfills, streets, rivers or oceans. Along those lines, over 8 million metric tons of plastic waste finds its ways into Earth’s waterways every year.

Once pristine islands like the Galapagos, part of Ecuador, suffer the brunt of this. Whales and other aquatic life are literally consuming this waste and washing up ashore in the process. 

The United Nations reports that 27 countries have enacted some sort of ban on single-use plastics. As more nations start implementing efforts to reduce these harmful trends, I have a feeling that more environmental-focused startups will come up with similar solutions. Friendly robots may be the answer.