Sensors, artificial intelligence, 'blockchain' or 'big data' are some of the technologies with which the company works so that, almost invisible to the citizen, the efficiency of waste recycling is improved.
For five years, the 300,000 inhabitants of La Rioja have been the first to test the most innovative projects and ideas in terms of recycling. This Autonomous Community that recycles more than any other in Spain, with 70 kilos per inhabitant, was chosen in 2017 by Ecoembes to locate its innovation laboratory, The Circular Lab, and to be able to test there the projects that will later spread throughout the rest of the world. territory.
A good example of this is the SmartWaste initiative that was launched in March 2021, making La Rioja the first region to develop this Ecoembes and Minsait (Indra) project, through which data is collected throughout the collection process and waste selection thanks to the incorporation of sensors in the trucks, GPS systems and the latest technology in the selection plants. Last week, Castilla-La Mancha became the third Community to apply this platform to improve and optimize its waste collection and selection system for yellow containers (plastic containers, cans and briks) and blue containers (paper and cardboard). .
"Innovation has been a pillar for Ecoembes since its inception, but it is true that since the birth of our laboratory, The Circular Lab in 2017, the commitment has been even more powerful, investing many resources to work throughout the value chain. of the packaging", explains José Luis Moreno de Castro, manager of Innovation at Ecoembes.
The director assures that the recycling industry is in the process of revolution and that innovation is being committed "in a brutal way. We are experiencing a moment of total change in what is understood by recycling. Some parts of the chain are more advanced and others less so, but everyone wants to revolutionize the sector by applying technology", he adds.
Specifically, at Ecoembes they boast of various innovation initiatives and projects such as Reciclos, a reward and return system that, through a mobile application, offers incentives to users who recycle in yellow bins or containers. "Also within the Recycles project we are working on providing intelligence to the container so that it is capable of detecting what type of waste is being introduced and the citizen can be rewarded. Nowhere in the world has this technology been developed and we are doing it thanks to to Spanish companies and start-ups. And we go even further, because we use blockchain. We have developed a token and we use smart contracts to carry out the draws directly on the blockchain," says Moreno.
From a more industrial point of view, the company is working on the identification of waste within the recycling plants themselves thanks to intelligence and artificial vision, in addition to increasing the automation of these plants so that they are increasingly more connected and improve your efficiency. "We are also working on optimizing routes, just like last-mile transport companies do, we apply geolocation to help us make waste collection more efficient," he adds.
"We are 150 people at Ecoembes and I would tell you that all 150 people work in innovation. This innovative culture is very well established in the company. In fact, we have an intrapreneurship program in which all the workers participate and propose their ideas, which we then scale up and we improve," says the manager.
This open forum that allows employees to propose their innovation ideas is one leg of Ecoembes' commitment to open innovation. "It is a great work forum in which we collaborate with many stakeholders, from our employees, to entrepreneurs, citizens, start-ups, or technology companies." An example of this open innovation are the challenges that the company launches annually to find solutions to major challenges in waste recycling. Last year more than 100 small companies applied and 8 start ups with which they are currently working were selected. "This year's Challenge will focus on the circularity of packaging and we invite all companies that want to participate to propose solutions to our challenges," he adds.
Despite the fact that Spain is a country very involved in waste recycling, Ecoembes assures that it is necessary to continue working to achieve that desired 100% recycled waste. "That goes through more digitization in the process and more automation. More connected and automated systems," concludes José Luis Moreno.