A weakness in the recycling chain has long been the sorting process. Good waste sorting is a prerequisite for the consistent and reliable production of high-quality recyclate.
Or, to paraphrase the more graphic description many recyclers tend to use : Sh*t In Is Sh*t Out.
Now, two German companies, optical technology giant Zeiss and Polysecure, a manufacturer of trace solutions, have teamed up to to advance the state of the art in waste sorting, or more particularly, in plastics waste sorting.
Polysecure, as a pioneer of Tracer-Based Sorting (TBS) technology, has developed new marker materials and TBS sorting machine technology that, says the company, allow for reliable sorting processes with detection rates that are close to 100%. This technology can provide the basis for higher recycling rates - ‘and more circular economy’.
The company has partnered with Zeiss, a veteran in the optical industry, with a history stretching back 175 years. For Zeiss, which is owned by the Carl Zeiss Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Germany committed to the promotion of science, sustainability and business success have been inextricably linked from the very start.
A first target in the strategic collaboration between the two companies is the development of a new multi-modal optical detector that can combine several measurements for each waste object: tracer detection, a NIR (near infrared) measurement, colour measurement and image recognition (artificial intelligence), as well as the detection of a water mark, if necessary.
After passing through the detection unit, all objects in a waste stream will have been precisely classified according to their specification and fraction affiliation. Even sorting by manufacturer brand and/or product groups are an option using this process.
The high quality and purity of the plastic waste that is presorted in this way will allow , for example, for CO2-efficient processing into useful recyclates by means of mechanical recycling.
As Max Riedel, head of the Zeiss Innovation Hub at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, explained: "The two technology companies complement each other ideally here. Polysecure produces the tracers, provides the process innovations and the sorting machine construction, while Zeiss provides the optical components and image processing.”
To which Jochen Moesslein, CEO and founder of Polysecure added that working with Zeiss will allow the company to further improve its technology. “We are ready for the next innovative leap and implementation step."
The new detector technology will be integrated into a new sorting line at POLYSECURE in Freiburg, which will be used as a pilot plant by the stakeholders in the recycling industry for sorting tests. The sorting line will be designed for numerous waste streams, including plastic packaging, textiles, shredded vehicles, white goods, electrical products and even production waste from the plastics industry.
The two partners say that the new sorting process will not lead to additional costs in the recycling processes, and will offer a more reliable, precise and flexible solution than current technology. Once the technical and economic goals have been achieved, the companies will, together with other strategic partners, roll out the new technology on a worldwide basis.