Adelaide's SAGE brings automation to sorting containers at recycling and refund depots

SAGE Automation's smart systems have advanced vision technology that can count up to 350 recycled containers per minute and calculate the refund.
Image courtesy The Lead South Australia

Adelaide-based technology and engineering company SAGE Automation is producing more of its automated smart container deposit systems, as other Australian states follow South Australia’s lead in recycling by introducing a container refund scheme in 1977.

With the University of South Australia, SAGE Automation has developed auto return terminals (ARTs). The terminals allow customers to return deposit cans, plastic bottles and glass for a 10 cents-per-container refund.

The ARTs identify and sort containers with  industrial internet-of-things technology and a vision counting- and-sorting system developed by SAGE. The system’s advanced vision technology counts up to 350 containers per minute without the need for coding or labelling. The containers are counted for a predicted refund sum that customers can view on a TV screen at most depots.

The machines can identify different container types, including unwanted materials. The process takes only a few minutes and a refund receipt is automatically generated. The terminals have proved more than 99% accurate in counting containers. Since Queensland launched its containers-for-change scheme in 2018, a rise from 32,000 to 230,000 containers per day has gone through 16 semi auto return terminals (ARTs) at private recyclers across six sites.

SAGE remotely monitors the machines, including some in rural Queensland, from its operations centre in Adelaide.

Until recently, alternatives to manual counting of containers have been limited to European reverse-style vending machines that only accept containers with intact barcodes, one at a time. South Australia recycling depots, that have counted and sorted containers manually for more than 40 years, could also benefit from the ARTs that reduce operational costs while improving accuracy and customer experience.

*Information from The Lead South Australia

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