Unveiling the secrets of “huge profits” in the recycling industry, they believe that AI can also become a “teacher”

The information is always stuck here, and I am the "neck" in the "stuck neck".

I can process a set of photos in about 15 minutes, which is too inefficient.

Tan Tian said that he used to be "like a robot", sitting there every day, watching his buyers keep sending a lot of photos, waiting for him to identify what the scraps in the photos are and how much they are worth.

▲ There are many and miscellaneous waste materials

Scrap recycling is an industry that can turn waste into gold, but the premise is that you have the tacit knowledge that has created the "huge profits" of this industry.

At this year's "Google Overseas Entrepreneurship Accelerator Showcase Day", we met Tan Tian, ​​who used this tacit knowledge to complete a startup from zero to one in the United States twice.

Last year, he returned to China with his wife Zhou Yuan, who has more than ten years of research experience in the field of artificial intelligence, and jointly founded "Regeneration Doctor", hoping to create new laws in the trillion-level recycling industry that "has not changed in ten years" through digitalization.

Scrap Time Travel

"Garbage is just a misplaced resource." So what kind of resource is "garbage" and who decides it?


The essence of bulk waste recycling is to obtain valuable main materials in waste. Just like bulk futures, scrap trading has a strong "timeliness", and the changing supply and demand relationship makes the price of scrap continue to fluctuate.

Tan Tian shared a case with us.

In 2014, a heavy snowfall in Egypt led to a reduction in cotton production and also "deteriorated" recycled plastic bottles on the market.

They are no longer considered a by-product of petroleum, but have become a substitute for cotton, priced on cotton terms.

When we think about waste, we always think with the thinking of bulk futures.

Scrap prices are not listed, but their corresponding bulk futures prices have a rolling 24-hour value list.

Based on this insight, Tan Tian created a set of price classification system for common recycled materials, turning waste that was originally difficult to judge the price into a "commodity" whose value can be calculated using a formula.

A lot of people find out why it takes them overnight or a long time to get a response when they ask someone for an acquisition offer, but we get a quick response. Because others want to ask the price all over the world.

This method not only slightly liberates the "stuck neck" of the "neck", but more importantly, alleviates another "timeliness" problem in waste recycling-timeliness.

I used to miss a lot of calls because of the heavy business volume. After a few days, I was finally able to call them back, but by then the waste would have probably gone to landfill.

For many people who need to dispose of waste, it is not the focus of their work to dispose of waste optimally, but to dispose of it as cheaply as possible within a certain period of time.

In this context, efficiency is particularly important for waste recycling, but it is also particularly lacking in the industry.

The "space" factor in "time and space" is equally important.

Since 2011, IKEA has been laying solar panels on the roof of the store to reduce carbon emissions, but IKEA has not thought about how to recycle these solar panels.

An IKEA company in the United States had to rely on an electrician to know that discarded solar panels can still be sold.

At the time, IKEA called in an electrician to remove the wires. The electrician used Dr. Regeneration's app to identify the wire content, and told the staff that he wanted to dismantle the wires and sell them.

The IKEA people were surprised and asked the electrician if the solar panels could be sold, otherwise they would have to pay high disposal fees to dispose of the waste solar panels in California.

In the end, the electrician used the Regeneration Doctor app to match a buyer from a Middle Eastern country, turning the original "disposal fee" expenditure into "sales" income for IKEA.

However, depreciated solar panels that do not meet commercial standards continue to shine in the civilian field in the Middle East.

"Fry" waste data into "dishes" that AI can understand

Everyone said that he felt like a "robot" staring at the picture, and Tan Tian always wanted to replace himself with machines to do these complicated and inefficient tasks.

He laughed and said that his "pain point" was too painful. As early as 2015 when artificial intelligence (AI) was on the rise, he began to "beg" Zhou Yuan to use AI for waste identification, but the technology at that time was indeed immature and the identification was accurate. The rate is very low.

Later, Zhou Yuan felt that it was possible to do it, but the premise was to collect a lot of data.

"Hello" data is actually not difficult. The most difficult thing is to collect data and "fry" it into "dishes" that AI can understand.

Unlike animals and plants, waste does not have its own "encyclopedia" for AI to learn, so Tan Tian's team began to take pictures of waste, taking many photos of different stages.

When recycling, take pictures of the "original" appearance of the waste.

When it comes to mid-stream processing, the photos record the waste materials after they are processed and decomposed, showing the proportions of different materials.

Going to the downstream production end, the photos have to show the substances dismantled in the midstream, and what can be smelted in the end–down to how many elements can be smelted after substance A arrives at the copper plant, and the water yield of aluminum after substance B arrives at the aluminum plant. How much is it, and what is the situation of the PVC sheath of the wire being reused in the PVC factory.

In addition to a large number of "on-site" photos and data annotations, Tan Tian also used a lot of "historical data": office buildings, homes, residential areas, and factory waste in different regions. What percentage of wood, cement, steel bars, etc. do they probably contain? There will be approximate data.

As long as it looks roughly like that, you know what the data behind its statistics are, and this is our logic.

After three years, "it's like putting eyes and brain together", Tan Tian's team used machine vision (recognition of waste) + AI (price system) to build the earliest product in 2019.

Behind the intelligence, Tan Tian built a new system with the tacit knowledge of the industry.

At the same time, this system also allows the vague knowledge and information that once only existed in the minds of "teachers" to become data that can be circulated, so that it is possible to apply more technologies in the recycling industry in the future and trigger changes.

Money, money

Good recycling is conducive to the sustainable development of society and the protection of the environment, but Tan Tian firmly believes that the sustainable future of recycling must be driven by profit.

Once, Tan Tian saw someone asking in the ideal car owner group, what to do with discarded car batteries? The man first threw the battery in the trash can downstairs, and then it was sent home by someone else, and the downstairs could not receive it.

Tan Tian helped him find a recycling point, and the other party sold the used batteries for 7,000 yuan.

This is actually a recycling cycle.

He believes that whether it is an individual or a company, as long as people can think of another way called recycling when they are faced with things to be thrown away, which is convenient enough and beneficial, we can cultivate a good cycle.

In recent years, domestic "Aibo Green" and "Big Yellow Niu" have tried to lower the threshold for consumers to participate in recycling, so that recyclers can make appointments for door-to-door recycling through the app like delivery staff, turning waste into income or points.

But for Tan Tian, ​​it is not time to come back to serve the domestic market.

From his experience, the structure of the recycling industry in the United States is more mature at present, and the scope of transactions has also reached the world, but it lacks the intelligent part. This is an opportunity that can be fully realized.

Only by adopting the model in the United States and polishing mature products, then whether it is China or other markets in the future, it can be quickly rolled out after entering.

At present, the fee-based services provided by "Dr. Regeneration" for upstream recycling companies in the United States include three types:

  • "ScrapPro Regeneration Assistant": a SaaS system that manages information such as knowledge, price, supply and demand;
  • "ScrapERP Recycling Digital Intelligent Enterprise Management System": ERP system, customized enterprise services for recycling factories, and equipped with intelligent hardware such as smart cameras and networked weighing platforms for factories, "the entire process of waste in and out can be digitized";
  • "Doctor Scrap Regeneration Doctor": Scrap trading platform, covering from matching buyers to contract management.

▲ "Dr. Regeneration" app interface

Will it serve individual users in the future?

It is not impossible.

Tan Tian told us that in the future they may make a "simplified version", turning off some of the original enterprise functions, leaving behind AI identification, market prices, etc., to help individual recyclers or people who move once every ten years to complete Recycle.

But the premise is that in the case of limited team members, first polish the products one by one.

Now that we have encountered such a large market, they like us very much, but our service categories can only be provided to them bit by bit.

In the one year since its launch, "Dr. Regeneration" has attracted more than 1,200 bulk waste recycling companies to settle in more than 40 countries around the world and completed transactions worth over 100 million US dollars and tens of thousands of tons. The "Recycling Assistant", which has been online for less than three months, has also been paid for by more than 30 recycling companies in North America.

Tan Tian is still very optimistic about the prospect of the track.

In 2021, China promulgated import standards for copper, brass, aluminum, steel, and other recycled materials, better regulating the domestic recycling industry.

In addition, sustainable consumption trends have changed the attitudes of some customers.

In the past, some people told the seller not to publicize after buying waste materials for recycling, but now, the buyer has become the one who actively promotes and shows the recycling information to his customers, because some companies and brands are willing to pay more for recycled materials premium.

In the past, I figured out the laws. Now, I want to create new laws, and I want to create a possibility to change the market.

Go forward step by step, keep yourself alive, grow the team, do things well step by step, and reach the goal.

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