£1.2m funding for waste vision start-up

Waste sorting at a recycling plant in Sterlitamak, Russia, in 2019. Image: Shutterstock.com/Vitaly Fedotov
Waste sorting at a recycling plant in Sterlitamak, Russia, in 2019. Image: Shutterstock.com/Vitaly Fedotov

Intelligent waste management start-up Recycleye has secured £1.2 million in seed funding, it was announced in mid-December. The firm is developing a computer vision system and affordable robotics, that will seemingly combine to create the world’s first fully automated, and deployable material recovery facility.

CEO and co-founder Victor Dewulf, resigned as a banker at Goldman Sachs in 2019 and says he is on a mission to remove the dull, dirty, and dangerous manual jobs plaguing the recycling industry. Manual waste pickers, who are exposed to a multitude of occupational hazards, have resulted in the industry facing an average of 50 percent labour turnover every 6 months. Compounded with China’s waste import ban in 2018, which stopped the UK from exporting 50 percent of its waste, the recycling industry is now at overcapacity.

Recycleye’s vision system is said to be capable of detecting and classifying all items in waste streams – broken down by material, object and even brand. And so it removes the need for manual waste pickers. Underpinning the high-level accuracy of their system is the company’s own library of waste images – seemingly the largest waste image data set in the world, holding over 2 million trained images and counting.

Investor Henrik Wetter Sanchez of Playfair Capital commented: “As deep technology investors, we were impressed by Recycleye’s AI-led computer vision solution to this growing global problem. Yet it is what Victor and Peter have achieved, working fast and lean, in just a year since inception that gives us confidence that they can truly transform the recycling industry with their technology”.

The firm has developed the technology with computer scientists at Imperial College and the Delft University of Technology. And Microsoft has provided technological capabilities that have “scaled the company from research and development to commercialisation.”

An advisor, former CEO of Veolia France, Bernard Harambillet, said: “I was impressed by Recycleye’s expertise, and their incredible ability to federate around them, the best academic, technological and industrial skills, as well as to transpose all this knowledge in very concrete cases. The firm has secured paid pilots with two out of the three largest waste management players in the UK.