Home Sustainability Amazon Is Investing in AI Recycling to Address Its Trash

Amazon Is Investing in AI Recycling to Address Its Trash

Problem. Amazon's Climate Pledge Fund invested in recycling technology startup Glacier and struck a deal to use its AI to sort through trash.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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Amazon is betting that artificial intelligence can take out the trash.

Alongside lead investor New Enterprise Associates, Amazon's Climate Pledge Fund recently participated in a $7.7 million funding round in the recycling technology startup Glacier. The San Francisco-based company uses AI to scan and identify over 30 different recyclable commodities and then uses robots to sort and separate recycled goods from trash. 

"You might imagine self-driving cars can look out at the world and see a car or a dog or a stop sign. We do the same thing except we identify bottles and cans and cardboard," Glacier co-founder Areeb Malik says.

Amazon also announced a partnership with Glacier on a pilot project that uses its AI to scan and collect data on Amazon's recycling materials. The pilot, which has been underway for a few months, mostly involves testing to see how well the AI detects Amazon's various packaging formats, but it could eventually track the live flow of materials through recycling facilities. Glacier co-founder Rebecca Hu told Inc. that its future goals include recovering some of the recyclable materials that are likely slipping through the cracks and winding up as trash or even using Glacier's insights to design packaging that can be better recycled.

"It's a circular economy by definition, so a huge leverage point is to actually help the people that are making all this stuff understand how to design that stuff better, in order to be recovered and brought back into use," Hu says.

Amazon's preeminence in the e-commerce space means it generates a lot of garbage. The company estimated in 2022 that it used an estimated 189 million pounds of single-use plastics to ship orders to customers, which is a step down from 214 million pounds in 2021. But Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Oceana calculated a much larger figure, estimating Amazon generated a whopping 709 million pounds of plastic packaging waste in 2021.

Amazon pledged to cut emissions to net zero by 2040 in 2019, and founded its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund in 2020 to encourage the development of technologies that will advance the company's sustainability goals. Some $53 million has been allocated specifically for its Female Founder Initiative. Glacier was the second company to receive Female Founder Initiative investment, following Genecis, a Toronto-based bioplastics company.

Nick Ellis, principal at Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, said the company's efforts to cut down on packaging started even earlier. From 2015 to 2022, Amazon reduced the average weight of a package by about 41 percent, according to the company. Amazon's Climate Pledge Fund investment in CMC Machinery, an Italy-based custom packaging company, helped the e-commerce giant eliminate single-use plastic packaging in India and Europe. Through the Genecis investment, the company hopes to replace plastics with biomaterials.

Innovations like Glacier's prove the tremendous power of AI can be applied to solve climate-related threats as well as contribute to them, according to Ellis.

"AI as Glacier is using it had really put superpowers in the hands of really talented engineers and made solutions like this possible in ways that we couldn't even imagine five years ago," he says. "This is going to be a real Renaissance around these types of solutions and technologies that's enabled by these two forces: existential climate change and new cyber skills and tools like AI."

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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