Recycling robots in the circular economy
Recycling robots will play an increasing role in the circular economy since the whole purpose of the latter is to create a closed loop of material use. The major environmental and human cost of smartphones lies in their manufacturing and the extraction of materials such as cobalt, tantalum, and so on. If robotics and automation allow to dismantle phones and recover parts and materials to be reused, we’ll be close to that virtuous loop. That’s our goal !
Recycle and reuse is the basis of circular economy
In a circular economy, materials and products are designed to be reused, repaired, refurbished, and recycled, rather than being discarded as waste. This can help to conserve the Earth’s resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diminish geopolitical stress on rare resources, and create new business opportunities.
The circular economy concept is based on three main principles : design out waste and pollution, keep products in use, and regenerate natural systems. No need to point out that phones aren’t currently designed to last or be repaired (planned obsolescence). And regenerating natural systems is not really in our scope but the 2nd principle represents our goal with BoBee and recycling robots.
Overall, the circular economy is a holistic approach that aims to create a sustainable and regenerative economic system, where waste is minimized and resources are conserved. It is an approach that benefits both the environment and the economy and helps to ensure that the planet’s finite resources are used in an efficient and sustainable way.
Recycling robots support the circular economy
Recycling robots can help to support the circular economy by automating the sorting and processing of recyclable materials and products, increasing the efficiency of recycling operations, and reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
You may have heard of materials recovery facility (MRF) robots that are used to sort mixed recyclable materials into different streams, such as paper, plastics, metals, and glass. They use a combination of cameras and sensors to detect and identify different types of materials, and then use mechanical arms to pick up and sort the materials.
BoBee is more of what is called an end-of-life (EOL) robot. These robots are used to disassemble and sort components from end-of-life products such as cars, appliances, and electronics. They use mechanical arms to extract valuable components such as metals, plastics, and circuit boards. But we resent this name because we don’t consider phones are at the end of their life ! BoBee’s first intent is not to become the final step of the smartphone’s circular economy (even if it could be used to separate parts that would be melted to recover materials).
The first intent of BoBee is to be an intermediary step in the circular economy of smartphones. A new phone is bought, then used, then discarded : it can be repaired to be used again, it can also be dismantled (if repair cost is too high often) and its components reused in other refurbished or repaired phones.
Using robots to refurbish smartphones
Overall, recycling robots play a key role in the recycling industry and in the circular economy by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of recycling operations, reducing the need for manual labor, and conserving resources by recycling and repurposing materials. As technology continues to advance and costs decrease, we can expect to see a great increase in the use of recycling robots in recycling facilities but also inside companies around the world, helping to create a more sustainable and circular economy.
>> Learn more about Industry 4.0 and Recycling Robotics
>> Learn more about BoBee’s role in automated phone refurbishment