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Rethinking the science of plastic recycling: UK startup lands £1.2M for turning trash into treasure using AI & robotics

Recycleye

The recycling industry is plagued by various problems including, dull, dirty, and dangerous manual jobs. Also, numerous waste pickers are exposed to a multitude of occupational hazards, which have resulted in the industry facing an average of 50% labour turnover every 6 months. 

With China’s waste import ban, the UK has stopped exporting 50% of its waste, resulting in overcapacity. And here comes Recycleye, an intelligent waste management startup to the rescue. 

Raised £1.2 million

Based out of London, the company raised £1.2 million in seed funding, led by venture capital investors MMC Ventures and Playfair Capital, with participation from leading funds Atypical Ventures, Creator Fund, and eolos GmbH. 

Investor Henrik Wetter Sanchez of Playfair Capital commented: “As deep technology investors, we were impressed by Recycleye’s AI-led computer vision solution to this growing global problem. Yet it is what Victor and Peter have achieved, working fast and lean, in just a year since inception that gives us confidence that they can truly transform the recycling industry with their technology”

Further, the company also received grants from InnovateUK and the European Union to develop a computer vision system and affordable robotics, that will combine to create the world’s first fully automated, and deployable material recovery facility.

Disrupting waste management

Founded by Peter Hedley, and Victor Dewulf in 2019, Recycleye’s vision system is capable of detecting and classifying all items in waste streams – broken down by material, object, and even brand removes the need for manual waste pickers. Notably, the company owns a library of 2 million trained waste images and counting, the largest data set in the world. 

Until now, Recycleye’s advanced team of research engineers have been working in stealth mode with nine computer scientists to build and deploy the vision system in under a year. The Imperial College London and the Delft University of Technology played a crucial role in building Recycleye’s technology. 

The UK company has benefitted from an early partnership with Microsoft as well. Notably, the company has been accepted into leading accelerator programmes such as Technation, EIT RawMaterials, and more. 

Amali de Alwis, UK Managing Director, Microsoft for Startups, commented: “Having originally joined Microsoft’s AI for Good Programme, we saw the potential in Recycleye’s vision system which leverages deep learning and AI advances, and their ambition to build the operating system for the waste management industry — the key to accelerating the world’s transition towards a circular economy.”

Planning for European expansion

It’s worth mentioning that, Recycleye has already secured paid pilots with two out of the three largest waste management players in the UK. 

Ahead of its European expansion, the company has already deployed multiple systems on the French market. As per the company’s press release, the installed systems have successfully exceeded human performance, enabling their clients to optimise their throughput and examine their strategic operations using live data of their waste flows.

Recycleye’s advisor, the former CEO of Veolia France, Bernard Harambillet, introduced to Recycleye through its partnership with eolos GmbH, commented: “I was impressed by Recycleye’s expertise, and their incredible ability to federate around them, the best academic, technological and industrial skills, as well as to transpose all this knowledge in very concrete cases.”