The Container Deposit System: how it works

In October 2018, Container Deposit Systems was fortunate to be featured on Channel 10’s Scope program; an episode focusing on how high-tech automation is benefiting a wide range of industries in Australia: The episode showcased the process and benefits of the Container Deposit Systems Vision and Sorting Machine.

Due to the positive feedback we received from the Scope episode, in this article we look at exactly how this container deposit system works, as well as why automation is vital for the recycling industry.

The Smart Sorting Process

In many cases, the standard process of sorting containers when they arrived at a container deposit facility is manual. This means workers individually sort and count cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles and unsuitable materials. This process is highly time-consuming and creates a bottleneck in the process which minimises the number of containers which can be recycled. Whilst some facilities attempted automation in the past, many recycling facilities purchased expensive sorting machines from Europe which relied on barcodes, and containers to be in perfect condition as damaged products cannot be read.[1]

With new container deposit systems in the majority of states of Australia, the heavy workload on recycling facilities is predicted to dramatically increase.[2][3][4]  This means an increase in labour expenses and potential bottlenecks for facilities.[5]

The Container Deposit Systems Vision and Sorting Machine can automatically count up to 350 containers every minute.  This results in recycling facilities being able to process more containers each day, as well as offers a streamlined process for customers and businesses who are depositing containers for recycling.

So how does it work?

Step 1: container hopper

When a customer arrives with their containers at a recycling facility, the first step is for an employee to load all the containers in the vision and sorting machine hopper.  All containers are loaded and mixed up at this stage. 


Step 2: counting

As the containers move along the hopper, the vision and sorting machine uses high-tech vision technology to count the number of containers; counting up to 350 containers per minute. This is an important step for states with container deposit schemes as it enables a fast calculation for a predicted container refund.


Step 3: sorting

The machine then begins the sorting process. This is conducted via a range of conveyor belts, electric motors and spinning discs which separates common recyclables such as metals, plastics and glass.  The impressive technology that enables this feat has been developed via machine learning algorithms. The machine was feed thousands of images of containers to enable it to identify different materials, as well as unacceptable materials. 

Once the machine has categorised the container, compressed air is used to push the containers into specific cages for each category. This means the containers are now sorted and ready to be recycled; and, the whole process has taken only a few minutes.


Step 4: refund

During this process, the system is also counting the number of containers to calculate a refund for the customer.  The containers are counted in real time and, at most facilities, the count will appear on a TV screen so the customer can see their refund grow.  


The system then provides the customer with a receipt which can be used to redeem cash at the cash terminal, or they can receive a refund via direct banking if the customer has set up their account within the state system.  The Container Deposit System provides a streamlined process for the customer which ultimately will encourage more people to undertake the process.

Additional benefits for recycling facilities

The Vision and Sorting Machine not only improves the speed of container recycling but has proven to be over 96% accurate.[6] This increases the overall recycling rate as containers are more likely to be categorised correctly. 

Another benefit of the Container Deposit Systems vision and sorting machine is, containers don’t need to be in their original condition. Many containers arrive squashed or without labels and this has proven difficult for other automation machines in the past which rely on barcode sorting.

These achievements are all due to the vast investments in machine learning; as well as collaborations with automation and industry specialists including SAGE Automation[7], NORD Drivesystems Australia and[8] University of South Australia[9].

All these features enable recycling facilities to streamline efficiencies and maximise returns on containers sorted.  

The greater benefits

In industries such as waste management, automation efficiencies are vital as they enable us to reduce landfill waste as well as increase the number of recycled products in the circular economy.  The ultimate aim of this impressive system will be to increase Australia’s recycling rate and improve our rank against other OECD countries. The impressive system developed by Container Deposit Systems and partners will contribute to these goals, as well as encourage innovation across the industry.  It is forecast as more recycling facilities implement the machine learning, the system will continue to improve in speed and accuracy.  

How all Australian’s can help

The most important step for all Australian’s is to implement recycling habits. This includes utilising the recycling bins at home, as well as out in public. Almost all states in Australia have a container deposit scheme in place, which enables households and businesses to collect and deposit a range of beverage containers.

Whilst automation is vital for the growing recycling industry, without all Australian’s manually recycling containers daily there would be no container deposit schemes.  


About Container Deposit Systems

Container Deposit Systems was formed with a vision to oversee the implementation of improved operational practices in recycling facilities.  The company offers a range of services to recycling depot facilities to drive productivity improvements and transition traditional recycling facilities into modern technically advanced operators.

The company achieve this through patented technologies which deliver manufacturing automation to auto-sort materials via a highly sensitive multi-sensor integration.  Systems integrations enable facilities to further gain efficiencies through workflows, materials handling, logistic processes, facility layout and design, customer interaction and data acquisition and management. 

Container Deposit Systems technologies are designed and manufactured in Australia with local partners Sage Automation and Macweld Engineering.

For more information, please contact us directly.