Sophisticated sensor technologies are helping Australian material recovery facilities improve their sorting capacities beyond what is possible with manual sorting.
In June 2018, the Federal Parliament released its inquiry into Australia’s recycling industry. It highlighted the critical need for investment in innovative technology and improved infrastructure.
The report explains Australia’s recycling industry had become reliant on the export of large quantities of low quality recycled materials overseas, meaning that across the supply chain, from collection to sorting, there has been a focus on quantity not quality.
With regulatory restrictions now limiting potential export destinations, the report says Australian recycling industry is in grave danger. Further, it adds that Australia is lagging behind other jurisdictions which have made investments into recycling infrastructure and technology to establish a circular economy.
Tom Jansen, TOMRA Sales Manager, says standard manual sorting processes lack the efficiency needed to keep up with the evolving market demands for purity.
“We’re seeing it across the globe. To simply recover materials just isn’t good enough anymore. Materials recovery facilities need to be able to take the next step and ensure they are equipped with better, faster processes to reduce contamination levels,” he explains.
With more than 5500 sensor systems installed worldwide, TOMRA has specialised in sensor sorting machines, backed by continuous research and development of new technologies to improve capabilities of sorting plants.
To bring this market expertise to Australia, TOMRA has partnered with equipment supply and plant engineering company CEMAC technologies. The two organisations help recycling companies find ways to improve their throughput and qualities with sensor technologies.
Eric Paulsen, CEMAC technologies Director, says there are a range of potential applications for these sorting plants, from commingled recycling wastes, plastics to metal scrap recycling, or organics decontamination.
“It is important to ensure there is ample collaboration between us and the specific requirements and application for each plant, which is why CEMAC and TOMRA maintain close consult with clients to design reliable and consistent processes,” Eric explains.
“We help our clients develop the process engineering, flow and assist with the mass balance calculations for the correct selection of equipment.”
For waste streams where there are significant levels of contamination, such as commingled recycling, incoming materials are first separated based on size, removing potential contaminants such as textiles or plastic film.
Additional sensors include near infrared, which can be calibrated to detect specific material such as plastics and paper as they move through a specific point on the conveyor belt, before being ejected by a burst of compressed air.
For materials with no specific infrared signals, which are invisible to this type of detection, laser object detection sensors are installed. These use a 3D laser system to detect items the spectrometer can’t.
TOMRA has also developed the Sharp Eye system, which allows the plant to separate single-layer PET trays from PET bottles.
This is often important, as the chemical properties between the two products may require them to be separated for equivalent product recycling.
X-ray transmission sensors, colour detecting cameras and induction-based sensors are also able to be implemented according to the specifications required of the facility.
Eric explains that the TOMRA spectrometers are able to attain a high signal strength to background noise ratio, leading to better sorting outcomes.
“With automated sensor sorting, recyclers are able to go above and beyond the limitations of manual sorting and move closer towards the efficiency required for a circular economy.”