On July 8, TOMRA Recycling held a webinar with 150 participants in which experts in the field analyzed the trends, challenges and legislative requirements of the WEEE recycling sector. Also, members of the TOMRA team presented the company’s latest technologies to optimize production and achieve the purity of the final materials, with the aim of achieving an increase in profitability that is not possible through traditional methods.
Judit Jansana, General Manager of TOMRA in Spain and Portugal and webinar host, was in charge of introducing the event: “In these almost post-pandemic times, TOMRA continues to be a strong and solid company where we believe that the future lies in a circular economy. Thus, the new Circular Economy Division already has several important projects underway where we have connected manufacturers and producers with recyclers. Because to make the circularity of materials possible, it is necessary to reach new levels of quality. To align ourselves with this objective, we have prepared this webinar where we will share our knowledge and experience in this clearly booming segment.”
Keith Freegard, Plastics Recycling Advisor, focused on the topic of “New market trends and challenges. Adapting to new rules and regulations in WEEE recycling”. Terence Keyworth, Segment Manager Metal Recycling Northern and Eastern Europe, spoke on “New trends in WEEE shredding”. Thirdly, Tom Jansen, Metal Recycling Segment Manager for Southern and Western Europe, based his presentation on “Design of WEEE recycling lines”.
Then, Eduardo Morán, Area Sales Manager Iberia, explained in detail the “TOMRA applications and solutions for the recovery and separation of metals”. David Nogueira, from TOMRA’s technical team, also showed a video on the operation of TOMRA equipment. Finally, Judit Jansana took the floor again to explain the “TOMRA applications and solutions for the separation of plastics” and end with a question and answer session where Judit celebrated that more than 600 units have already been sold in Spain and Portugal.
New trends and challenges and adaptation to WEEE recycling regulations
With 30 years’ experience in the plastics and plastics recycling industry, Keith Freegard began his presentation by explaining how the new regulations will affect the WEEE market: “From the beginning, European governments have focused on producer responsibility and have tried to force large manufacturers to recycle and recover their products at the end of their useful life. But, I found that large companies were doing the minimum possible to comply with the legal requirements. The change has come in the last three to five years, when the presence of plastics in the ocean and their damage to the environment has become evident. Now producers do need to demonstrate that they are doing something to save the planet, that they have to buy back their own polymers. And that means a change in the consumer that encourages them to buy products that have a high content of recycled raw materials”.
With this change also come new challenges. And, for Keith Freegard, the main one is the increased complexity in the process. “There is a more complicated regulatory framework, more regulations, more laws and more things that have to be done correctly to ensure non-contamination, removal of unwanted components and being able to identify and separate plastics that contain unwanted additives. We have been in this WEEE market for 15 to 20 years. They should be very simple products that can be easily separated. Obviously, you have to use plastic, but only one or two types. The fact is that products that are complicated to separate make the recyclers’ task very difficult. He added: “The positive side is that if you learn how to do this, you can make a very high profit doing something that other people can’t do.
When it comes to separation technology, he acknowledged the progress of the last two decades. “It’s interesting to see how the technology has changed in the last 20 years. I still remember when I did my first line design, around 2003 and 2004. There wasn’t really much available to separate plastics from WEEE. We did a lot of testing with technologies from mining and mineral processing, as well as from the agricultural sector. Later we designed and built machines ourselves where the key was to separate by densities. Now, however, sensor sorting brings advantages compared to previous technologies.
Also, alongside the challenges, new opportunities arise: “The most exciting is the area of sensor-based sorting development. If you put all the systems together there is great potential to build a proper process. I think you can get very high quality with the confidence that every single batch produced meets the customer’s requirements. So it’s a great advantage for recyclers today,” he concluded.
New trends in WEEE shredding
After explaining the broad groups into which WEEE is classified, Terence Keyworth argued: “When processing electrical and electronic scrap, the aim is to obtain valuable secondary raw materials that are as pure as possible and to ensure that other harmful substances are removed. The treatment of WEEE can vary enormously depending on its category and the technology used”.
In his presentation, the head of the metals segment explained the different shredding technologies to conclude that the objective is to design a processing plant that has the right balance between the right size to release valuable materials, and the reduction of the cost of shredding (such as power consumption, wear costs, etc.).
Thus, he detailed that the shredding of WEEE to separate valuable materials is usually done by high-speed pre-shredding or vertical shredders with chains. In the first step, large metals are released from the plastic fraction for the recovery of materials with value through sensor-based sorting and manual sorting. These materials can be printed circuit boards, cables, stainless steel as well as other valuable metals. In addition, batteries, capacitors and other harmful materials are removed.
In a second step, reduction of the remaining materials is carried out, with hammer mills or disc crushers, breaking up the remaining plastic compounds with metals or larger materials not crushed in the previous step.
“We see a trend toward more recyclers opting to shred material to larger grain sizes (e.g., up to 50 mm) before sending the released materials to sensor-based technology for the final sorting steps,” Keyworth said.
How to optimize WEEE recycling line design
Tom Jansen spoke about a typical recycling process. He began by clarifying that “there is no perfect one-size-fits-all solution. The goal of this exercise is to highlight some common steps in sorting, show what is possible, maybe interesting ideas or trends we see using the latest sorting technologies and how this could help the operational performance of WEEE recycling plants.”
After recalling the steps previously explained by Terence Keyworth, Tom Jansen wanted to explain how TOMRA technology is involved in the recycling process. He referred to the X-TRACT the COMBISENSE and the FINDER .
The X-TRACT (with X-ray XRT technology) sorts material based on the density difference of heavy metals to obtain high quality aluminum fractions. The X-TRACT models combine sensor technology with unique proprietary software. In addition, the resulting heavy metal mixture is suitable for color sorting using a COMBISENSE unit.
“In some cases, depending on the plant’s input material or customer requirements, this unit is sufficient for sorting non-ferrous metals, skipping the X-TRACT,” Jansen said. On the other hand, waste consists of plastics and other non-metals, but also includes metals that were not separated by eddy currents. This includes stainless steel, copper wires, plastic and metal composites, as well as parts of printed circuit boards.
Jansen concluded: “Thanks to the technologies featured by our FINDER units, all metals can be recovered from the non-metals to minimize the loss of valuable metal parts among the plastics to ensure the quality of the plastic fraction at a later stage. The recovered metals can be sold directly to copper refiners without further sorting, or they can be sorted to recover stainless steel to increase the value of the copper wire and printed circuit board fraction. Some customers go a step further and even separate the PCBs from the cables by taking advantage of the flexibility of the COMBISENSE unit. All in all, over the past few years, we have seen some interesting developments.”
TOMRA applications and solutions for the recovery and separation of metals
Eduardo Morán stated at the beginning of his presentation: “There is no single solution. Depending on the customer’s needs, the separation objective, and other factors, one or several technologies can be applied. The goal is to develop a specific design for each customer. My job is to offer specific solutions.
In this way, he explained the improvements introduced in the FINDER, which make it more efficient and offer higher performance. This equipment has a high capacity to recover high purity metal fractions. The webinar showed three different configurations: the standard one, with EM3 electromagnetic sensor; the second one, with electromagnetic sensor plus the LOD (Laser Object Detection) sensor; and finally, the equipment that includes the electromagnetic sensor plus a near infrared (NIR) sensor, the LOD being optional.
“The electromagnetic sensor attached to the LOD gives far greater flexibility than with the electromagnetic sensor alone, as it can blow both metal and non-metal positive or negative, depending on the concentration of metals in the fraction. Thus, compressed air consumption is considerably reduced and higher purity metal fractions or concentrates are obtained.” In addition, this configuration makes it possible to obtain stainless fractions without plates because the machine can be programmed not to blow those plates that have a similar signal to the one that the stainless may have. “This technology is very interesting when you have a fraction with a high concentration of high metals, since much higher purity standards are achieved.”
The third configuration, thanks to the patented FLYING BEAM® technology, also detects the plastic sheath (usually PVC) that protects the copper cable and creates high-purity cable fractions. “The metallic fraction is very important, but the plastic fraction is far superior in percentage and weight. This sensor makes it possible to separate the visible polymers by type, giving value to the plastics and avoiding landfill, with the economic and environmental cost that this would entail. Also, adding LOD is a great advantage because it allows you to remove from the flow the black plastics that are invisible to the NIR”.
To demonstrate its operation, David Nogueira, from TOMRA’s technical team, showed a video of a FINDER 2400 and a FINDER CON NIR 1800 at a TOMRA customer site.
COMBISENSE Belt and COMBISENSE Chute, maximum flexibility
Similarly, Eduardo Morán spoke about two COMBISENSE models: Belt and Chute. Both have the same sensor configuration, high resolution CRGB camera + EM3 electromagnetic sensor. COMBISENSE offers the best color detection and separates the most difficult metal fractions from a mixture of material. The result is a high purity product regardless of particle size and waste composition.
It performs sorting of the following monofractions: EM3 sensor metal concentrate, stainless steel, wire and printed circuit board. It can also be used on zorba fractions: after Foucault rejection, the positive (or zorba fraction), usually passes through an X-ray machine to separate the aluminum from the heavy metals, which can be further processed. “It is an extremely flexible machine capable of generating many, many high quality monofractions”, said Eduardo Morán.
TOMRA applications and solutions for the separation of plastics
To conclude, Judit Jansana explained in detail the applications offered by TOMRA for the classification of plastics and their peculiarities. “The separation of plastic is a little exploited part due to two difficulties: the technical difficulty and that the value of this fraction is much lower than the metallic fractions,” she began.
To overcome the first difficulty, TOMRA offers the AUTOSORT® model, which allows sorting materials that were practically impossible with other more traditional techniques, such as black plastics. In addition, to separate plastics from brominated plastics (harmful and heavier), TOMRA has the XRT technology.
“The recovery of plastics from WEEE is technically possible, although complex. All our equipment allows us to work with different sorting programs. Thus, with the same equipment we can generate several monomaterial fractions. With this webinar, we wanted to explain the market trends and the technologies that can help your business to obtain maximum profitability,” concluded Judit Jansana.