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Pushing the buttons on recycling in Brown County

The facility
The Tri-County Material Recovery Facility uses several AI robots in the sorting process. Mark Walter photo



BROWN COUNTY – Tri-County Recycling will soon increase their usage of robotics in their Material Recovery Facility to aid in the sorting of recyclables and prevent materials from entering landfills.

First opening in 2001 as a partnership between Brown, Outagamie and Winnebago counties, Tri-County Recycling began as a regional recycling system.

However, in July 2009 partners went on to construct Tri-County Material Recovery Facility (MRF).

The MRF completes cost-efficient sorting and marketing of recyclable materials in 65 communities of the tri-county region and now accepts materials from across northeast Wisconsin.

Due to the high demand of this MRF, a solution for sorting was found.

Tri-County MRF first introduced three artificial intelligence (AI) robots in late 2023.

“One robot is designed to sort plastic milk jugs, one sorts laundry and detergent bottles and one is near the end of the sorting line pulling recyclable material that was missed earlier in the process,” explained Business Development Manager Mark Walter.

These robots learn shape and color recognition through AI programming.

The robots are placed within the sorting line and were designed to take the place of one person, sorting material at a rate faster than a person can.

“The installation of the robots was necessary to add to the staffing of the MRF during an extended period when not enough people could be hired to staff the facility” and also “reduce the likelihood of injuries” Walter noted.

With over 100,000 tons of material being sorted and baled for sale across Wisconsin and the Midwest, Tri-County MRF is the largest publicly owned and operated MRF in the country.

Due to volume and demand of services, Tri-County MRF plans to install an additional robot later this year.

For more information on the usage of robotics in recycling, as well as how to appropriately recycle in your own home, visit recyclemoretricounty.org.

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