The small town recycling facility using AI to gain a leading edge in the waste industry

Thu, 14/10/2021 - 18:00

The small Indigenous town of Cherbourg in Queensland’s South Burnett region is home to a recycling facility that is set to participate at the leading edge of the waste industry, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology that sorts and identifies waste streams. 

Led by the Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council, the Cherbourg AI Material Recovery Facility (MRF) has worked collaboratively with community, government, industry, and investors to maximise the re-use of resources and to minimise waste sent to landfills in local government areas. 

Since 2016, the project has created more than 25 new job opportunities for the Cherbourg community. Most recently, the project partnered with Noosa Council and the Peregian Digital Hub to introduce AI that can automatically classify and count waste items into their correct categories, in real-time. 

Supported by Advance Queensland funding, Council received $150,000 in matched funding from both the Deadly Innovation strategy, and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) to expand their technology Australia-wide. 

We recently caught up with Sean Nicholson, Economic and Community Development Manager at Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council to find out what the introduction of AI to the Cherbourg MRF meant to them. 

Tell us about the Cherbourg project… 

The project is all about trying to embrace technology and offer jobs to Indigenous people in the community. This will help our community by creating opportunities for Indigenous people. 

How has this project assisted your community (what benefits/opportunities has it provided)? 

The project is still only in its early days, but it brings cooperation between Noosa Council and Digital Hub with their experts. The project also gives people confidence for working with technology and will create some work from home opportunities. 

How has the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport supported you on your innovation journey (funding received and any other support)? 

The Cherbourg MRF received $150,000 funding through Advance Queensland. As well as the funding, notably we received a high level of support from Duncan Kerslake and Jen Black (Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport). They also provided some businesses linkages with the Digital Hub and different departments within the Queensland Government, including DSD (Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning). From this we were able to foster interdepartmental assistance. 

What progress or milestones have been made possible because of this support? 

Through the support from the Department, staff have been recruited and the Hub has been kitted out. A three-dimensional camera was purchased and installed and software has been developed. As well as this, a waste stream database has been formed. 

What achievements are you most proud of to date? 

Two things: the help we’ve been able to provide to businesses to get them operating and offer these opportunities is very special. Also, the job satisfaction we can see in the employees. We want people to be interested in their jobs and love what they do. 

How will the implementation of AI enhance the Cherbourg project? 

The AI development project will provide a saleable product to other councils recycling operations 

What are you hoping to achieve with the Cherbourg project moving forward? What are your goals (in the next three to five years)? 

We’re looking forward to moving ahead with the business through branching into the manufacture of recyclable products and repurposing products. We’ve are about to embark on a feasibility study to see what is possible. We’re hoping to revolutionise the way waste is sorted in the industry bringing efficiency and cost savings. Our goal is to create ten sustainable jobs in the next three years – Part of the development is to create quality software that we can on-sell to other councils. 

Why is it important that Queensland Government programs such as Advance Queensland support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander innovation? 

Programs like Advance Queensland help to close the gap and give people opportunities that are otherwise are not available. 

What is your advice for other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs and innovators? 

If you try, you might. If you don’t, you won’t. Give it a go 

Last updated 10 Nov, 2021
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