Hong Kong students invent smart rubbish bin to encourage recycling

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  • The device uses artificial intelligence to sort waste, making it easier than ever for people to recycle and protect the environment
  • Many Hongkongers have flocked to the countryside during Covid-19, leaving behind massive amounts of rubbish and contributing to a rise in waste pollution
Sue Ng |
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Kwan Tsz Hin, Yuen Hei-pui, Huang Tsun-hei, and Li Sin-tung present their AI rubbish bin, which took them years to create. Photo: Sue Ng

Four Hong Kong secondary school students have invented a rubbish bin that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically sort household waste and alert the user when the bin is full.

Connected to a computer, the smart bin uses a camera to identify the type of waste it receives and automatically sorts it into plastic, paper, metal, or other categories. It has a 70 per cent rate of accuracy in sorting the materials.

The award-winning smart rubbish bin, named Waste Collection Point, has been nominated to represent Hong Kong in the Korea Science and Engineering Fair this Saturday.

The young Hongkongers who strike for the environment every week

Developed by Kwan Tsz-hin, Yuen Hei-pui, Huang Tsun-hei, and Li Sin-tung, all Form Three students at Man Kwan Pak Kau College, this invention hopes to improve on the city’s recycling rate and reduce landfill waste.

To enhance the bin’s accuracy and teach it to identify different types of waste, the team tested every product in the school’s tuck shop and took at least 500 pictures of each item, from various bottled water brands to juice boxes.

“We had to take many photos of the products from different angles to train the AI so it could classify the solid waste,” said Kwan Tsz-hin, one of the team members responsible for building the AI system.

The bin currently has a 70 per cent accuracy rate sorting the recycled materials into different categories. Photo: Sue Ng

The idea of the AI recycling bin came two years ago, when the group was in Secondary One. At the time, one of the students, Li Sin-tung, was dealing with the effects of waste pollution in her village, So Kwun Wat Tsuen. Many visitors flocked to the area amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“All the bins were full, and there was even garbage on the mountain,” Sin-tung recalled. “Every weekend, we [the villagers] had to pick up the waste.”

The students decided to develop an intelligent recycling bin that would encourage Hongkongers to protect the environment.

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Although school ended at 2pm, the group would continue to stay on campus to work on their invention until 6 or 7pm. Even during last year’s class suspensions, they would still meet and work together through Zoom.

But when they introduced their project to their class, no one supported their idea.

“They did not think we could make it … But after we won third place at the Hong Kong Student Science Project Competition, they became very supportive and offered a lot of help,” the team shared, adding that the device is currently in its third generation.

The group said that initially, their classmates weren’t supportive of their idea, but offered help after they won a prize at the Hong Kong Student Science Project Competition. Photo: Sue Ng

“Before graduation, we hope we can put the finishing touches on the bin and launch it in the city.”

Brenda Fung Shun-ning, the school’s vice-principal, said the students have overcome many challenges during the process that have led to change within themselves.

“They have built self-confidence through the competition, and that confidence is essential to their learning, as it allows them to truly engage in the process,” she said.

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