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(Interview) TOMRA launches sorting technologies to better manage waste
Source:Adsale Plastics Network     Editor:VF    Date:11.May.2022

TOMRA has been a sensor-based sorting solution innovator dedicated to developing cutting-edge sorting technology as well as enriching the practice and experience in recycling applications since 1972.


Commenting on the current plastics recycling industry, Kelly Xie, Head of TOMRA Sorting Recycling China, revealed that recycling companies face great difficulty collecting waste plastics although waste plastics sorting, cleaning, crushing, and granulation has become highly mature technically. This situation makes it necessary for society to establish scientific systems for waste plastics collection, end-of-pipe treatment, resource recycling, and information management.

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Kelly Xie, Head of TOMRA Sorting Recycling China.


Producing recycled plastics as good as virgin materials


TOMRA’s INNOSORT FLAKE flake-sorting machine gives a peek into advanced technology in the field of waste plastics. Built with TOMRA’s mature near infrared (NIR) inspection technology and Flying Beam scanning technology, the machine can simultaneously remove containments from PET flakes according to colors and materials, including containment of the same colors but of different materials such as PVC, PP, PE, PA, and POM.


The machine can also effectively remove containments smaller than 4mm from bottle flakes, thereby significantly improving sorting efficiency and productivity and ensuring higher sorting purity and quality to reach the high standards required for food-grade applications.


TOMRA upgraded INNOSORT FLAKE for greater functionalities last year, extending its application from PET flake sorting to polyolefin flake sorting.


Following the upgrade, the machine can also be used to tackle the problem of sorting the difficult-to-differentiate same-colored PP flakes and PE flakes, increasing the post-sorting purity and value of recycled materials and creating more possibilities in high-end recycling applications. With unprecedented purity, the sorted PE and PP flakes can fulfill the requirements of existing regulations and satisfy end customers’ needs at the same time.


“Our equipment has wide-ranging applications in China,” said Ms. Xie. “In the beginning, TOMRA equipment was mainly used in the area of PET bottles, where we have had cooperation with many customers, including Guangxi Guolong, Dongguan Tok Zin, and Veolia Huafei. These companies’ products are at the high end among products locally made in China. They implement stringent control throughout the production process and use TOMRA sorting equipment for high-precision sorting. Therefore, the high-purity recycled materials they produce have met food-grade application standards.”


Apart from PET, TOMRA sorting equipment is also applied in sorting mixed packaging, low-value recyclable materials, film products, and crushed materials from dismantled home appliances. Ms. Xie emphasized, “We offer custom-made solutions to customers according to the feedstock’s conditions to better solve customers’ pain points and difficulties, raise their capacities and output volumes, and give a boost to the sector’s upgrade.”

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Apart from PET, the upgraded INNOSORT FLAKE can be applied in polyolefin flake sorting.


Expanding recycling of low-value recyclables


To tackle the difficulty in waste collection, Ms. Xie suggested establishing holistic resource systems for waste management, as the first thing to understand about China’s urban waste is its composition. Apart from typical “high-value” recyclables, there are also large amounts of “low-value” recyclables such as takeaway food boxes, fresh food packaging boxes, Tetra Pak carton packages, beverage containers, plastic bags, soft plastic packages, as well as waste glass, waste wood, and waste textiles.


Although low-value recyclables have high recycling values, they are usually delivered to the landfill or incinerated in the mix of other garbage at the moment, creating enormous waste in resources and economic value. Market regulation alone is not effective in ensuring the effective recycling of these recyclables. They have to be mass recycled before acquiring a recycling value, leading to the need to establish scientific resource systems for waste management.


Holistic resource systems usually consist of a series of political framework regulations, such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), deposit return schemes, and a series of management models and technical processes for waste handling. To identify the most efficient and cost-effective scenario for a holistic system, TOMRA appointed Eunomia, a consultancy for sustainability, to examine various models, after which the following three elements of holistic waste management were identified:


  • Deposit return schemes for PET and metal beverage containers: These schemes can maximize captures of high quality, high carbon-intensity materials while reducing resource waste.


  • Separate collection of specific materials: It maximizes carbon reduction by enabling the better treatment and recycling of materials such as biowaste, waste paper, waste textiles, and electronic waste and avoiding greater difficulties in sorting and recycling other materials as these materials are prevented from mixing with other dry waste.


  • Mixed dry waste sorting: Other dry waste can be mixed and collected for central sorting to sort out recyclable materials for recycling. This process can generate additional collection and recycling rates while preventing unnecessary GHG emissions from the incineration or landfilling of plastics and other high carbon materials. It can also return more materials to the system for incorporation into new products, increasing recyclables’ beneficial utilization rates. Therefore, mixed dry waste sorting needs to be considered an investment priority now.


According to study findings, a scientific and reasonable waste management system can effectively deal with climate change-induced challenges by potentially reducing 2.76 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Serving as an optimized combination of key waste management practices for collection, sorting, and recycling, the system can facilitate the transition towards a circular economy to effectively prevent resource depletion, reduce resource waste, and contribute to a carbon-neutral world.


Ms. Xie concluded, “China is a major manufacturer and consumer worldwide. To achieve the carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals within 40 years, China has to adjust its energy structure to improve energy efficiency. It also has to heavily promote a circular economy to improve resource utilization rates comprehensively. As a leading innovator of collection and sorting technology, TOMRA strives to achieve these goals and raise waste management to higher levels.”



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