Govt to roll out plastic bag-gobbling robots by end of year

Govt to roll out plastic bag-gobbling robots by end of year

A school in Bangkok has students swim among plastic bottles to create awareness of plastic waste in oceans, on June 8 - the World Oceans Day. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A school in Bangkok has students swim among plastic bottles to create awareness of plastic waste in oceans, on June 8 - the World Oceans Day. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The Department of Marine and Coastal Resources is developing an AI robot to trap debris before it reaches the sea, in the hope of preventing loss of marine life to plastic bags.

A collaboration with SCG Chemicals, the project aims to launch the robots by the end of this year.

The prototype robot was unveiled on Thursday at a meeting of hundreds local partners who are collaborating to protect marine resources in 22 coastal provinces.

Cholanat Yanaranop, president of SCG Chemicals, said the robot was the brainchild of last year's "SCG-DMCR Litter Trap" project aimed at preventing discarded plastic bags entering the sea.

"We have developed everything from its mechanism to its digital technology. The robot is programmed to collect plastic waste only [by] trawling the river guided by a mobile phone signal. It is a practical solution and communicates well with users," he said.

Dubbed the SCG Smart Litter Trap 4.0, the prototype robot is 1.5 metres long by 1.2 metres high and has the capacity to collect about five kilogrammes of plastic per trip. Powered by a solar panel, the internet of things (IoT) device also boasts machine-learning properties that allow it to adapt to the task. The robot is smart enough to identify and then retrieve plastic bags. Once full, the robot contacts its human controllers via a mobile app so the garbage can be collected in a storage facility.

Mr Cholanat said the working robot's capacity would be increased to over 100kg of plastic waste, adding that his company has patented the technology, which could be used in developing countries where marine debris is a problem.

The robot is modelled on the SCG-DMCR Litter Trap, which used trap doors that opened to collect waste as it flowed with the tide. The original fish-basket-shaped trap runs 5 metres in length by 1.8 metres high and has a much larger waste capacity of 700kg. However, the trap is immobile and collects everything, meaning the plastic waste has to be sorted by hand, which is time consuming. A months-long pilot project was conducted on rivers in Rayong and Samut Sakhon province.

The company yesterday handed 20 of these traps to the department, which plans to use them in pilot projects at 20 locations in 13 provinces, including Petchaburi, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Phangnga and Phuket.

Wijarn Simachaya, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, said public awareness on marine plastic waste had grown after the death last week of the young dugong called Marium.

The ministry was working at the local and international levels to reduce plastic bag consumption, he said, pointing to the Bangkok Declaration on Marine Debris Management announced by Asean leaders at their summit earlier this month and backed with funding from World Bank and Asian Development Bank.

"It takes around 450 years for plastic to decay in the sea, and we only started to use it 80 years ago. This a chapter in our challenge to live in an environment under severe pressure from marine debris and climate change," he said.

Thailand has been named the sixth-highest marine polluter in the world. About 2,172 tonnes of the 24 million tonnes of waste Thailand produces annually finds its way to the sea.

About 57% of that garbage is plastic waste.

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