Highlighting the plastic industry’s infamous track record on recycling, London-based Recycleye says it raised $17 million in new funding led by “deep tech” investor DCVC.
The startup claims its recycling-picking robots can identify materials “at an unrivaled 60 frames per second” and sort them more accurately than humans can. Ultimately, the startup says its tech cuts the “cost of sorting materials.” TechCrunch has reached out to the company for information on its projected cost savings.
Based in Palo Alto, DCVC says its mission is to “multiply the benefits of capitalism for everyone while reducing its costs.” Climate tech is one of its focuses, and one lens through which we can see capitalism’s environmental toll. In the case of plastics, the oil industry has long preached the virtues of plastic recycling, while doubting its economic viability, in order to sell more virgin plastic.
Every stage of plastic production disrupts the climate and natural world, from “the extraction and transport of the fossil fuels that are the primary feedstocks for plastic, to refining and manufacturing, to waste management, to the plastic that enters the environment,” the Center for International Environmental Law wrote in 2019.
Plastic pollution — a major climate change driver — is rising, too. That is due in part to shortfalls in “waste management and recycling,” OECD, an intergovernmental body, said last year. The group concluded that someone needs to “create a separate and well-functioning market for recycled plastics.”
The trouble is: Sorting, melting and ultimately reusing most plastic — which you can only recycle a couple of times — is way costlier than buying virgin plastic. Much of the time, we simply don’t do it. Most plastic (about 91%, per OECD) is not recycled and single-use plastic production is at an all-time high.
By focusing on speeding up scanning, identifying and sorting used materials, Recycleye is one among many companies that are attempting to fix part of this broken system with AI. Citing OECD’s report, Recycleye said, “Changing this wasteful and environmentally damaging dynamic, seen across a range of materials, presents a tremendous business opportunity.”
Recycleye says its machine learning and scanning tech “is twice as fast as the industry standard and means that each item is seen on average 30 times as it passes along the conveyor belt, with double the chance of being accurately identified before picking.” We’ve reached out to the company for more context on these figures.
Several other investors chipped in on Recycleye’s new Series A funding round, including London-based early-stage investor Playfair Capital.