Europe’s push for MRF automation: CEMAC

Europe is pioneering world-first local sorting solutions in its nations’ regions for difficult recyclable commodities such as LDPE. Waste Management Review explores the potential to bring fully automated materials recovery facilities to Australia.

In the village of Skedsmokorset, warm summers and dry winters typify the small community of 15,000 people, based within the municipality of Skedsmo, near Oslo.

Located in Akershus county, Skedsmo is named after the old Skedsmo farm, since the first church was built there almost 10 centuries ago.

Hundreds of years later, high labour costs have inspired a local solution to a local waste management problem.   

As the Norwegian community is fairly remote, the City of Oslo has opted for a fully automated mixed waste processing facility. After three years of planning, in 2016, Stadler Anlagenbau was awarded a contract to build and design the first-of-its-kind facility.

The world’s first fully automated mixed waste processing facility is run by municipal solid waste processor Romerike Avfallsforedling (RoAF), which is based in Skedsmokorset. The company collects household and food waste from 10 municipalities in Norway, including Skedsmo, which comprises a population of around 53,000.

Powered by a sorting system installed by Stadler Anlagenbau GmbH, green bags of food waste are separated from other material and taken to an on-site anaerobic digestion facility. The material is then transformed into biogas and used to fuel RoAF’s waste collection trucks.

As the plant was being built, Norwegian municipalities redesigned their kerbside system, opting to collect all recyclables in one commingled stream.

The plant features a variety of processing equipment, including 145 conveyors, 16 near-infrared (NIR) optical sorters, two drum screens, one vibrating screen, a star screen, a shredder, two bag openers, two ballistic separators and an eddy current.

Three AUTOSORT TOMRA systems separate and clean the green bags from the remaining waste bags by material and colour using NIR and visual spectrometry. This initial sorting process can successfully separate more than 97 per cent of the incoming green bio-waste bags.

Once waste is separated into different streams, further sorting sees a combination of mechanical processing such as ballistic separators and AUTOSORT optical machines, with PELD film, PEHD, PP, PET, mixed plastics and paper separated. Recyclable fractions are stored and baled and sent to different recyclers, with any residues collected and sent for energy recovery.

According to Eric Paulsen, CEMAC technologies Managing Director, RoAF shows the potential that can be tapped in municipal solid waste recovery via automation.

As local waste management conversations tend to focus on the “tyranny of distance” argument, Eric encourages Australian centres to re-consider the long-term economics. He says that the fact that Australia has a higher densification in urban centres than Europe allows for better agglomeration in the main cities.

Cemac technologies is the Australian supplier for STADLER screening drums, sorting plants, ballistic separators and TOMRA Sorting and the company is looking to offer its high level of engineering experience for the Australian sector.

Eric adds that given wages are higher in Australia than Europe, it makes sense to adopt more domestic automation.

“Traditionally, sorting plants in Australia were very low capital compared to overseas, in terms of quality. This had to get boosted through manual labour, but even in the case of cleaning up paper, you can’t manually pick plastic bags that weigh five grams per bag by hand – the only way forward is higher capital and automation.”

While total automation and a labour-free MRF might seem like future innovations, Eric says the solutions are already accessible.

“Technologies that can seamlessly sort commingled recyclables are available. By achieving improved purity levels through automation, you can deal with today’s challenges,” he says.

When putting RoAF into perspective, Eric says that the benefits are threefold – cost via reduced wages, revenue via improved recyclate quality and environmental via reduced collection trucks. Eric says this then creates revenue with a cleaner recycling stream and leads to skilled employment.

“You could build a facility like this in larger regional centres, such as Albury, or also Melbourne and Sydney surrounds, collect all recyclables in one bin and sort onsite.”

Eric points to the success of another automated facility in Bulgaria that has chosen to take on a challenging waste stream with no end market for direct remanufacturing in Australia – post-consumer film. Like many ambitious Greeks before him, in 2016 Kostas Ziogas was looking to invest in a growing industry. While many who have safely invested in HDPE, PET and PP could perceive LDPE processing as a risk, Kostas and a team of entrepreneurs put their heads together and established a company in Elin Pelin, Bulgaria.

Dubbed Integra Plastics, the company invested more than $40 million in a prototype plant. In utilising efficient processes and creating higher purities, Integra produces a high-end recycled product as close to virgin material as currently possible.

Eric is inspired by the start-up, which uses Tomra machines and a sorting plant built by STADLER.

Using the STADLER film sorting plant, the shredded material follows a screening process to remove fines and uses ballistic separators to separate the 3D materials.

TOMRA Finder’s near-infrared system takes care of the LDPE clear film and sorts it by polyolefin type and colour transparency – blue, green and red – before the material undergoes washing, drying and regranulation. EREMA extrusion technologies pelletise the flake, which undergoes cutting, venting and melt filtration and can eventually be used to remanufacture new film.

Eric says that while sorting plants are evolving, particularly in Europe, and automation requires larger initial capital investment, the resulting material has higher purity levels.

“The whole ground is shifting on this. An MRF that would have been perfectly capable of making something commercially viable 10 years ago does not work anymore,” he says.

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