Waste & Recycling


TOMRA talks plastics at International Recycling Congress

SALZBURG, Austria – TOMRA Sorting Recycling presented at the International Electronics Recycling Congress (IERC 2019), sharing the company’s specialized knowledge of materials recovery from electrical and electronic waste (WEEE).

With legislation prohibiting the re-use of plastics containing brominated flame retardants (BFRs), TOMRA discussed how combining the company’s near infrared and X-Ray technologies enables the removal of up to 98 per cent of plastics containing BFRs from mixed plastic waste streams.  

Now that plastics waste can no longer be shipped to China and simply forgotten about, there is growing demand from recyclers for pre-separated polymers that are BFR-free.

TOMRA’s presentation noted that electrical and electronic devices contain from three to 60 per cent plastic, and among that, approximately 30 per cent of plastics contain flame retardants. TOMRA makes it possible to extract these materials from waste with the highly effective combination of two sorting machines, fulfilling the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive of an output with less than 1,000 ppm of bromine.  

TOMRA’s AUTOSORT starts the sorting process by using near infrared (NIR) technology to separate the input of mixed polymers, typically generated from IT and household appliances. The feed material is separated into polymers fractions – creating, for example, a PC/ABS (polycarbonates/Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) fraction or a HIPS (high impact polystyrene) fraction. 

These fractions pass separately through TOMRA’s X-TRACT machine that features X-Ray technology to separate BFR polymers from BFR-free polymers, since flame-retardant elements have higher atomic densities which absorb more energy. This technology is independent of plastics input color, so black plastic is not an issue.  

The result of this two-step process is the removal of up to 98 per cent of plastics containing BFRs from mixed input waste streams with a minimal loss of desirable plastics.

“Separating BFR polymers from recycled product is a global issue and definitely a concern for E-Scrap processors in North America, especially since the National Sword Initiative,” says Eric Thurston, sales manager metals – recycling for TOMRA.

“We have had discussions with several recyclers about upgrading their circuits to remove flame-retardant plastics from the finished material pile.”  

As an alternative way of reducing bromine, it is also possible to start the process with a straight pass through TOMRA X-TRACT to achieve an output of less than 1,000 ppm, leaving a mix free of BFR for further polymer separation processes. 

IERC 2019 took place from January 16-18 and attracted more than 450 professionals, including manufacturers and users of recycling technologies, government and NGO officials, policy-influencing academics, and members of the media. After a keynote speech by former EU Environment Commissioner Dr. Janez Potočnik, a series of presentations and workshops discussed latest-thinking regarding WEEE, the circular economy and challenges facing the recycling industry. 

TOMRA’s Judit Jansana

One hot topic was the Chinese National Sword Initiative, which has almost entirely halted the shipping of waste materials to China. The Chairman of the IERC Steering Committee, Jean Cox-Kearns, observed that in January 2018 there was a 99 per cent reduction from the previous year in plastics exported to China, and that similar restrictions on accepting waste are soon expected to be imposed by other Asian nations.  

These restrictions greatly increase the need to improve recycling rates in countries where waste originates, but this will require a wider understanding and adoption of sorting technologies. With this in mind, Head of TOMRA Sorting Iberia Judit Jansana gave a presentation which asked, “How efficient is the dry separation technology of flame-retardant WEEE plastics?”

That question is important, because the law prohibits the recycling of brominated flame retardants, meaning that BFRs must be removed from WEEE plastics before recycling. In addition, the RoHS Directive, which applies to the production of all new goods, requires recycled polymers to be BFR-free.  


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