27th Jul, 2021

A 'game-changing' regional recycling unit using AI-powered robots gets go-ahead by Coventry planners

PLANS for a “game-changing” regional recycling plant in Coventry using artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robots have been given the green light by city planners, despite opposition over its location.

The regional Materials Recycling Facility (MRF), on former allotments in London Road, will have the capacity to treat up to 175,000 tonnes of recyclate – or raw waste materials – a year from eight local authorities in the West Midlands.

Coun Patricia Hetherton, cabinet member for City Services, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for Coventry and the development of this facility is great news for all those involved in the project. The benefits of it include job creation, improvements to the local environment and of course we hope this new facility will allow each partner involved in the project to improve their recycling performance.”

Over the last 15 months, Coventry City Council, as lead authority, has undertaken competitive dialogue with bidders for the selection of a process equipment provider and contractor for the ground works and building construction. After a short period of ‘fine-tuning bringing together preferred bidders’ the contact award is expected in April with work due to start on site shortly after.

Richard Dobbs, manging director and chair of the board said: “It is great that we have hit another significant milestone, keeping us on programme to achieve a fully operational facility by Summer 2023. We are also pleased to announce the appointment of Machinex as our Preferred Bidder for the process equipment. Next step is the appointment of the civils contractors, then work can really get underway.”

The MRF, one mile outside the city centre, will be operated by Sherbourne Recycling Limited, the wholly owned Local Authority company being set up to manage the facility.

Eight Partner Councils behind Sherbourne Recycling, are all investing cash to build this new facility, including Coventry City Council, North Warwickshire Borough Council, Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, Rugby Borough Council, Stratford District Council, Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, Walsall Council and Warwick District Council, who joined the project in November.

Machinex’s design uses 14 sorting robots and 14 optical sorters to provide a highly automated and innovative state-of-the-art facility. Coventry City Council states it will be the most advanced of its kind within the UK  – and potentially one of the most advanced MRF’s around the world.

Jonathan Ménard, executive VP of sales and strategic positioning at Machinex said: ‘’This will be a great achievement for Machinex; the culmination of years of research, development, and hard work in incorporating artificial intelligence at the heart of our sorting solutions. We will deliver the MRF of the Future – a game changer and a loud statement within the market.”

Coun Hetherton added: “This facility looks set to be really impressive – a real leader in the UK and in the short term it’s going to help us make sure our waste and recycling service is as efficient as it can be. In the long term, it’s going to enable us to raise our recycling rates. This isn’t just a short-term investment, it’s a long-term investment to ensure a greener future for our city.”

Whitley Residents and Neighbourhood Watch Association raised serious concerns over the MRF’s transport assessment plan and the likelihood of significant breaches of air quality regulations in the area due to traffic growth. In a letter to planners they ask why an imminent Homes England planning application for up to 325 homes on London Road south was not included in the impact study.

Health fears over increased air pollution and the loss of a local wildlife site were also endorsed by Coventry and Warwickshire Air Quality People’s Chamber and Coventry Tree Wardens among others, particularly in relation to the MRF’s close proximity of nearby schools and visitor attraction sites.

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