This article is from the Advanced Processing Technologies session during ISRI2021. If you would like to watch this session in its entirety, you can still register for ISRI2021 here. This session, along with others, are available to attendees on demand.

To make recycling more efficient with clear material streams, companies are using the same technologies that help streamline our daily activities. During the Advanced Processing Technologies session at ISRI2021, panelists discussed technologies that can help recyclers increase productivity while generating recyclable material streams.

Universal Recycling Technologies

The Challenge and the Technology to Address It

In 2020, to manage more material in-house, Universal Recycling Technologies (URT) launched its Plastic Separation and Recycling System. According to Jeff Gloyd, URT’s vice president of sales and marketing, the three-tank system will recover and clean plastic, and make a marketable, granulated product.

The system can process 6,000 pounds of plastics per hour while recovering all metal contaminants from the plastic stream. It recovers Polystyrene, ABS, Polyethylene, and Polypropylene. The system sorts out non-desirable plastics and any remaining metal or circuit board material.

The Process

Desirable plastics float in the first tank. Heavy plastics and metal content sink to the second tank. The metals are recovered and go to metal processors or precious metal smelters. Heavy plastics are managed downstream. Back in the first tank, the desirable plastics run through a granulator that sizes them to dimensions required for the third tank, which separates the plastics. Finally, the plastics go through dryers before being prepared for storage and shipment.

What’s Next?

Gloyd says URT is seeing an increase in demand for its system. Currently, the system can operate for one shift, but the company is working to make it capable of a second shift.

Redwood Materials

The Challenge and the Technology to Address It

Redwood Materials sees electricity as the future for transportation. To address the material shortage, the company believes in advancing recycling. Mining for these materials will be required, but the need for recycling is constantly increasing, according to Carlos A. Gomez, Redwood Materials’ director of business development, making technology extremely important.

The demand for batteries for electric vehicles is steadily increasing. With this in mind, Redwood Materials focuses on consumer electronics and scrap production. Redwood wants to develop the solution for fully closed-loop recycling of lithium-ion batteries.

The Process

The front end of receiving material (transportation and packaging), handling, and sorting are important. Breaking down batteries will be necessary as they become bigger with electric vehicles, Gomez says. Having a form of automation through technology to break down battery packs and models, and to sort the material, will help the refining process. When it comes to refining, Redwood is adapting traditional existing technologies.

For the next step, materials manufacturing, Redwood Materials is ensuring it can handle the logistics, transportation, sorting, and process to advance refining. This review will lead to producing materials that go back into the supply chain.

What’s Next?

While the capacity can’t meet demand yet for advancing recycling for batteries, technology will help meet demand, Gomez says. Technology should primarily be used to impact costs, and to support electrification and sustainability, he adds.

AMP Robotics

The Challenge and the Technology to Address It

In the U.S., there are thousands of municipal recycling programs collecting materials generated by millions of people. But between the collection and the recycling, there’s only a small number of MRFs, according to Rob Writz, AMP Robotics’ director of business development. These facilities incur high costs when sorting commodities with complex form factors and material compositions. According to Writz, high sorting costs are eroding commodity value. But technologies like those at AMP Robotics are changing the story.

The Process

AMP Robotics technology has three components: the camera, the artificial intelligence, and the robotic arm. The camera records materials on the conveyor belt. The AI converts the images into data. The software guides the robotic arms to pick and place recoverable material.

The basis of this machine learning are artificial neural networks—computing systems that simulate the way a human brain analyzes and processes information. These neural networks are trained through pattern recognition to infer objects in real time. The patterns are analyzed at a near pixel level.

The AI digitizes individual objects, capturing each as data. According to Writz, this form of data includes object counts, packaging descriptions over time, etc. This data can be linked to other types of descriptive data to expand the richness and utility.

What’s Next?

Once recyclable objects are digitized in MRFs, many applications are possible. MRFs with these sensors can become more data driven by reducing cost and increasing revenue. These sensors may transform MRFs into information hubs.

“It’s a really exciting time for material recovery,” Writz says. “There are amazing opportunities across the value chain that will ultimately reduce the cost of sortation, and thus the total cost of recycling.”

Photo caption: Jeff Gloyd (second from the top) discusses URT’s Plastic Separation and Recycling System.