10 February 2020

Recycling Innovation Can Sort Out Our Planet.

By Bilal Ahmed

Recycling is fighting on so many fronts, tackling global issues like the plastics crisis, pollution, water scarcity… the list goes on.

While our personal recycling habits are slowly improving, we’re still falling short. That’s why innovation in the waste management industry is crucial.

Fortunately, market leading companies in recycling are constantly developing new technologies to advance the space. Their solutions are helping extract vast amounts of valuable materials from waste streams and bring them back into the loop for further processing and recycling. This means that we’re getting better at making the most of all our materials and resources.

Norwegian multinational, TOMRA, is one of the exemplary market leaders. They’re providing flexible and easy to maintain sorting systems for multiple waste streams including commercial waste, municipal solid waste, paper, organic waste, metals, end of life vehicles and more.

TOMRA has long been considered a pioneer in sorting. They developed the world’s first high capacity near infrared (NIR) sensor, which is an essential part of TOMRA’s sorting machines. This accompanies the company’s well-established AUTOSORT machines, which is one of its key machines.

Unlike other sensors, AUTOSORT doesn’t need an external light source. Instead, it incorporates FLYING BEAM® technology, which ensures stable performance at various temperatures due to its extended temperature range.

This is advantageous because it loses minimal PET flake material. The sensor also provides higher quality yields because it’s capable of detecting a broad range of polymers, eliminating contaminants like PVC, PE, PP, nylon and POM (acetal).

These improvements are making recycling more efficient for multiple industries. TOMRA is having a global impact too - with more than 6,000 sorting recycling systems installed in 80 countries worldwide.

This company isn’t one to rest on their laurels though. Felix Flemming, VP & Head of Digital at TOMRA, told me that the next step needs to be digital - turning sorters into connected devices that provide actionable insights.

TOMRA isn’t the only company making noise in the sensors market. Steinert is using equally exciting x-ray technology to fully automate sorting.

This technology is becoming crucial to the sorting process when conventional separation techniques fail. For example, in scrap, Steinert’s transmission machines can sort magnesium from aluminium with a reduction rate of 95%. Something competitors can’t do.

Steinert has a diverse product range. Its separation systems use multiple processes and offer various valve manifolds for different grain size range and material requirements. This diversity allows for increased sorting depth and high adaptability.

Steinert also provide several kinds of sensors, like induction sensors, Hiperspectral Imaging with NIR, 3D lasers, Laser Induction Breakdown Sectrocopy, X-Ray Fluorescence or already mentioned X-Ray Transmission.

We’re providing lots of different solutions in lots of different ways.

Marco Blaso, Sales Director at Steinert

It’s this adaptability that Sales Director, Marc Blasco, was keen to point out to me when we spoke last. He talked about how this allows Steinert to provide bespoke solutions for different challenges including the recycling of black plastics which are unrecognisable to current sorting systems. This is something they’re working on now.

Marc also spoke about continuous developments in their shape recognition technology. He claimed that this could sort plastics like PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) bottles and trays better than ever before.

Steinert is investing heavily in their recycling research & development and constructing new test centres around the world. This will allow its customers to see their systems in action before purchasing, supporting their sales and encouraging an uptake in industrial recycling globally.

Moving to the later stage of sorting, Max-Ai is part of the Bulk Handling Systems family and a name you’ll hear more and more about. This company is innovating in quality management to improve efficiency, consistency and reduce costs.

Using AI technology, Max-Ai can identify recyclables and other items for recovery or quality control. The technology employs both multi-layered neural networks and a vision system to see and identify objects like a person would. This means that the Max-AI AQC can do a similar job to a person, but at more consistent levels. It doesn’t get tired like a human would.

Me and European Sales Director, Remi Le Grand, agreed that this is a ‘game-changer’ for the industry. As well as cutting operational costs on the floor, this also removes the burden of managing workers (who are no longer needed). On top of this, the technology improves efficiency and consistency in the quality control process. 

While companies like Zenrobotics have followed suite and are continuing to make exciting advances with AI in similar areas, Max Ai remains the dominating force and has made serious strides since its first release of Max-Ai AQC.

It’s still early days for AI in sorting, with attitudes somewhat sceptical. However, the improvements to efficiency and consistency that it can provide will be crucial to the industry. With its cost reduction benefits adding to this, the technology’s return on investment will mean that it can make a difference in recycling plants around the word.

While this technology is impressive, the current state of our planet demands further innovation. Water scarcity is major concern and there’s enough plastic produced each year to circle the earth four times. It’s fantastic to see the big names in sorting step up to the plate, however, this is only the first step. We need to see more support from government initiatives and improvements to personal habits.

Let’s start sorting our planet out.

 

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By Bilal Ahmed

Bilal Ahmed is Business Consultant specialising in recruitment within waste management. Bilal’s strong understanding of the market is complimented by his specialist network which helps him deliver a thorough search process. Bilal consistently and successfully builds lasting relationships with both his clients and candidates, thanks to his professional, well-mannered and approachable demeanor.

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