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Separation and Sorting Technology

Separation and sorting technology innovations in waste handling and recycling operations

If there is one part of the recycling process that is complicated and hard, it is the part of separating and sorting the recyclables. Effective recycling relies on effective and efficient sorting. Separating the different elements found in waste streams is crucial for recovering valuable materials, minimizing the amount of material sent to landfills, and allowing recyclable materials to find a new purpose. There is a wide range of sorting and separating technologies on the market today. This Technology Zone offers an insight into the latest innovations in separation and sorting technology.

Waste separation is the process of separating waste into different elements. Waste sorting can be done manually at the household and collected or automatically separated in materials recovery facilities. Hand sorting was the first method used in the history of waste sorting.

Separating waste is the innovation of traditional waste collection and disposal. With the growing waste production and deterioration of the environment, it becomes the typical focus on achieving garbage utilization and improving the quality of the living environment.

Waste separation is an essential step before the disposal of waste. The valuable waste can be sorted for recycling and reusing through separation, such as plastics, paper, rubber, bottles, glass, etc. Separation of waste for recycling improves the level of resources utilization and reduces the amount of garbage.

Magnetic separation is separating components of mixtures by using different types of magnets to attract magnetic materials. The process that is used for magnetic separation detaches non-magnetic material from those that are magnetic.

Magnetic separation can be used in different environments and markets, so are magnetic separators used primarily for recovering metal from waste or purifying secondary materials by removing metals. But magnetic separators are also used in electromagnetic cranes that separate magnetic material from scraps and unwanted substances. Magnetic separation is also used in the mining and mineral industry and plays a small role in the food and pharmaceutical industry. For example, to remove metal contaminants from product streams.

How is a magnetic separator used in recycling applications?

A magnetic separator consists of a powerful electromagnet placed or suspended from a ceiling or device. Materials can be passed over a tabletop magnetic separator, while suspended magnetic separators often hover over material to remove imperfections. Magnetic separators can also be cylinders that objects pass through.

In the recycling industry, magnets are commonly used to attract ferrous materials, such as tin, iron, steel, and many more. Magnets are found along assembly lines where they will be placed either above or below the conveyor belts to attract said materials or minerals.

Screening is the most standard form of separating solid waste, depending on its size, by using one or more screening surfaces. Screening has several applications in solid waste resources. Screens can be used before or after shredding and after air separation of waste in various applications. Rotary drum screens and various vibrating screens are the most commonly used screens nowadays.

Selection of screening systems

Screening systems come in many shapes and sizes and provide various sorting solutions. Popular screening systems include the screen drum, trommel screens, mobile screens, vibrating screens, and many more.

The following variables affect the decision of selecting the most appropriate screen:

  • Separation efficiency.
  • Material specification for screened components.
  • Location where screening is to be applied.
  • Characteristics of waste material to be screened and the screen design
  • Operational characteristics (energy and maintenance requirements, simplicity of operation, reliability, and more.
  • Site considerations include space and height access, noise, and environmental limitations.

Sensor-based sorting has become more established in recent years, and it’s commonly used in the mining industry. The benefits of automatic sorting using color, x-ray, or near-infrared sensors are increasingly common in the industry and therefore accepted as the standard process. Mining technologies, like sensor-based sorting, can address the problems the industry now faces, such as water shortages, declining ore grades, and increasing environmental regulations.

Usage of sensor-based sorting technology

Sensor-based sorting has been used in the food processing and waste/recycling industries. In recent years, the mining industry has become more common for sensor-based sorting.

Sensor-based sorting is used for particle sizes ranging between 0.5 to 300 mm and is completed before applying fine comminution and chemical processing techniques. The goals are to remove waste before production and recover the usable ore.

Robotic recycling sorting uses artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to sort plastics, so humans don’t have to. With advanced cameras and technology, these companies count on robots to sort recycling.

How does robotic sorting work?

Cameras and high-tech computer systems trained to recognize specific objects will include the robotic components over conveyor belts to reach their target. Sensors attached to the arms can detect and interact with cans, glass, plastic containers, and any other recyclable items out of the otherwise garbage and place them in their respective bins.

Advantages of robotic recycling include:

  • Reduced reliance on manual sorters, therefore, more reliable
  • Increased agility and accuracy
  • Improved knowledge
  • Advantages of AI
  • Quality control

The application of X-rays has also changed every aspect of life, most notably in the mining industry. The application of X-ray separation technology has overturned the traditional methods. X-ray sorting technology enables materials to be separated based on their specific atomic density by recognizing the material beforehand.

The signal recorded by the X-ray sorting method is the content of the selected material, so the sorting process is not affected by other material properties.

X-ray methods can be divided into three categories:

  1. The X-ray radiation sorting method sorts materials by using characteristic spectral lines generated by excitation after receiving X-ray irradiation.
  2. The X-ray-fluorescence sorting method is based on the characteristics of materials that emit photons when they are excited by X-rays to achieve mineral separation.
  3. The X-ray absorption separation method separates different materials by different X-ray absorption coefficients of a specific wavelength and energy.

An induction sorting system (ISS for short) is the perfect addition to magnetic sorting and eddy-current separation for recovering residual metals from a mix of materials and minerals. These systems are especially suitable for stainless steel and composite materials such as cables or circuit boards.

How does an induction sorting system work?

Pre-sorted bulk material is fed on a conveyor belt. Below the conveyor, metal detectors are arranged over the whole width of the belt. The metal detectors are coils with a defined inductance. This inductance is changed if a metal passes by. If metal is recognized, it will be blown out with compressed air. The purity of the sorted materials is up to 90%.

Color sorters (often called optical sorters, digital sorters, or electronic color sorters) are sorting machines used on the production lines in bulk food processing and many other industries. They separate items by their colors, detecting the colors of things that pass before them.

Color sorters are primarily used in sorting grain (agricultural products), and the rice sorting industry is the first big market. Color sorters are also used for the food processing industry, such as coffee, nuts, and oil crops. Colour sorters are also found in the mining industry, more specifically, the diamond industry.

Color sorting in the recycling industry

In the recycling industry, the color sorter can distinguish between colored and colorless PET and HDPE flakes and separate flakes by color. Plastic color separators are used to separate mixed-color plastic flakes or particles, and Plastic-type separators separate plastics of the same color but different materials.

NIR sorting is the industry’s preferred plastics sorting technology because it can accurately identify the many different polymers already in use today. NIR technology is also widely used to recover valuable materials from streams in the waste industry.

The minerals industry offers various fields of application for NIR spectroscopy, and NIR spectroscopy can be implemented as offline laboratory analysis and online process control. In both cases, the well-known characteristics, namely: short analysis time, non-destructive, easy sample preparation, relatively low cost) are the best reasons for using NIR spectroscopy in the minerals industry.

Benefits of NIR

NIR sensors have already been proved to be efficient in the mechanical sorting of plastics in sorting facilities and the mineral industry. They are also an affordable option, as the development of MEMS technology has resulted in very cost-effective NIR solutions.

Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) is a laser-based analytical, identification, and detection technique that has been proposed for numerous applications, for instance, for the detection of metals (i.e., minerals, metallurgical, environmental, etc.).

LIBS uses a high-focus laser that erodes the surface of the metal. When this happens, the atoms decay and emit light wavelengths. These wavelengths are specific for each element; thus, the type of metal can be determined. LIBS is a minimally destructive method since it does melt a portion of the surface to obtain a result.

Some advantages of the LIBS technology

  • LIBS can identify types of metal rapidly as well as perform simultaneous multi-element analyses.
  • There is no need for extra equipment or licensing
  • LIBS scanners are used to be much more effective at analyzing light metals
  • Aluminum is also considered to be easier to sort with LIBS technology.

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Experts for Separation and Sorting Technology

After studying Chemical Engineering at the Technical University of Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Tom started working as Sales Engineer at Innov-X Systems. He initially focused on selling handheld XRF equipment in the Benelux, while gradually extending the geographical territory over the years. From 2007 he was heavily involved in the pioneering of automated XRF sensor technology, bringing this new technology to the metal scrap market worldwide. Tom joined TOMRA Sorting (then Titech GmbH) in 2011 as Sales Manager responsible for the Metal Recycling market in the Netherlands and Belgium. Since then, in his role as Segment Champion for the ELV shredder segment, he has also supported the metal recycling market in the Middle East region, Italy, Greece and projects in several other countries.
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Xu Xifeng, the founder of Keson and vice president of Jiangsu Low Carbon Environment Design Institute of China. He has been engaged in solid waste recycling industry for more than 10 years, and has unique insights on solid waste overall solutions and resource recovery and sorting systems. He has visited well-known solid waste treatment companies in the Middle East, Europe, America and other regions, introducing standardized, refined and systematic management concepts of global top enterprises to his enterprises, and transforming advanced technologies and processes into productive forces. Within five years of solid waste sorting technology and waste resources in the field of rapid layout, his products are sold in 17 countries and more than 40 regions.
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Tom Higginbottom specialises in providing recycling companies with support and advice on metal separation and recovery. Tom’s onsite experience means that he understands the challenges faced within a recycling operation and is able to provide practical solutions. When managing a recycling project, Tom is involved at every stage from the initial site meeting and review, through material testing at Bunting’s Customer Experience Centre, equipment recommendation, and installation and commissioning. Recent projects include an ElectroStatic Separator for an electronics waste recycler, Overband Magnets and an Eddy Current Separator for a pre-sorted household refuse recycling operation, and a Stainless-Steel Magnetic Separator for a metal recycler.
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Born in Valencia, Spain but living in Barcelona since 1991, Seguí studied informatic engineering. After finishing his bachelor’s degree, Seguí started a new technological project alongside his father and brother. This family-project evolved during the years and is now our company: PICVISA. The company started as a project for quality control through artificial vision in industrial processes. In fact, PICVISA’s first client was a ceramic company who wanted to check which tiles weren’t good enough to sell. It was between 2004 and 2006 when the company entered its current sector: optical sorting for the recycling and waste management companies. In the company, Seguí has held different positions. He first started developing the software needed to start the PICVISA project but soon began to lead some of the most strategic clients and partners of the company. With the company entering the recycling sector, Seguí took the role of Technical Director. During these years, PICVISA grew exponentially in the national market being the only Spanish manufacturer of optical sorters and also starts selling internationally, mostly in the EU and in North and South America. In 2017, with the company modernization and restructuration, Seguí became PICVISA’s CEO, a title he still holds today.
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Being a technical engineer, Eric has spent more than 2 decades on the development of sensor based sorting technologies to advance recycling processes. Since 2006 he pursued automated spectroscopy technologies like XRF (at that time also together with Tom Jansen) and LIBS. Today, sorting has become possible to an unmet extend and with the second generation of Sense2Sort LIBS sorters, it has become possible to identify the elemental composition of each metal piece at high throughputs and up to 6 fractions with one machine. Sense2Sort-Toratecnica focuses on sustainable, reliable and responsible solutions for a max of eco-economical sorting sense. This also involves the design of advanced sorting plants and consultation work.
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Jan has been part of our team as Business Development Director. His main task is to drive the company’s development, especially abroad. His strategic approach and understanding of international markets enables him to identify business opportunities.
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Patrick Potzinger is Head of Sales at REDWAVE’s head office in Austria. Patrick has a technical education and started at REDWAVE in project management in 2005. In 2010, Patrick became sales engineer in glass recycling and has been serving clients worldwide with a focus on English-speaking countries ever since. Patrick was promoted to Head of Sales in 2017 and has continued his unwavering commitment to finding the best feasible solutions, always delivering frank and straight-forward communications with both his team and his clients.
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Maximilian Gutmayr, international sales manager at Erdwich Zerkleinerungs-Systeme GmbH since 2017, is an expert for shredding systems, hammer mills as well as complete recycling solutions. After studying Economics at University of Augsburg and different stations abroad, e.g. Japan, Switzerland, etc. he joined the company Erdwich Zerkleinerungs-Systeme GmbH and is now responsible for worldwide projects and the constant business development. The company Erdwich Zerkleinerungs-Systeme GmbH has experience in the recycling branch since more than 40 years and delivers shredding solutions and turn-key recycling plants to customers all over the world, e.g. electronic scrap treatment plants, refrigerator recycling plants, solutions for metal swarf treatment, cardboard processing, and many more applications. The worldwide demand for recycling solutions in the environmental branch and of course the changing material mixtures increased over the last years drastically especially in Asian countries where Mr. Gutmayr is an expert in. You can contact Mr. Gutmayr by phone +49(0) 8191965240 or via email: for further questions.
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Seray Çakar is a vibrant and successful engineer at ERGA Innovation Centre (EIC), specializing in research and high-quality technological schemes design for waste management and mineral processing. With extensive hands-on experience in separation and a solid academic foundation — holding a Bachelor’s in Mining and Mineral Engineering and a Master’s in Mineral Processing, Seray excels in addressing the challenges within recycling operations and creating practical, efficient solutions. At the EIC, she designs sustainable and ecologically safe operational schemes for each project and offers expert guidance to devise the right strategy from the ground up. Get in touch with her at
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Charles Daridon is the Director Global Sales of the Bollegraaf Group. Charles was born in Bretagne but has been living in the Netherlands for several years now (since 2018). After a BSC in Chemistry, Charles attended a business school INSEEC in Paris. For more than 25 years, Charles has worked in the waste industry (soil remediation engineering, landfills, wastewater treatment, biogas plant) and, in the last 15 years, he became an expert in waste sorting solutions. His environmental commitment is not only professional but also personal.
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