When developing countries such as China opened the floodgates to receiving waste recyclables after it became a member of Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), there was no need to separate the seven categories of plastics. It’s easier and more economical for Australian companies to bundle it up and export it to China for ‘recycling.’ In 2017, Australia’s exports to China amounted to over 600,000 tonnes.
These business practices have changed, of course, since China enacted regulations that demanded the supply of only clean, separated plastics – and then only the ones that had a secondary market in China.
Through its National Sword policy, China imposed strict controls on the imports of waste commodities. The policy bans various plastic, paper and solid waste. It also sets stringent standards on the limit of contamination in scrap plastic, zorba and other metals allowed in a shipment – increasing from 90-95 per cent purity to 99.5 per cent.
To address these requirements and also change current practices, Inside Waste reported in its April/May 2019 edition that ‘the local recycling industry, which employs more than 50,000 Australians and generates up to $15 billion in value, is rapidly aiming to advance the recycling investments in response to the impacts of restrictions across Asia – including implementing high-tech infrastructure to improved sorting and processing to produce high quality recovered waste from households, businesses and construction sites.’
Since then, the Federal government has pledged $20 million to boost the capabilities of Australia’s recycling industry.
There are currently 193 material recovery facilities in Australia. Most of these employ manual hand-sorting/screening processes; nine are semi-automated, and nine centres are fully automated. Evidently, the ability of Australia’s waste recycling sector to generate recyclables with the lowest contamination and highest purity levels is manifestly inadequate to sort Australia’s annual recycling output.
The nine more modern facilities in Australia employ optical sorting systems that dispense with the need for manual and mechanical sorting. These advanced sensor-based sorting technologies have enabled organisations with these capabilities to continue to trade products with China and gain real competitive advantage – as well as attracting higher revenues from customers who value cleaner products.
Sensor-based, artificial-intelligence (AI) powered robotics sorting technologies are changing the waste recycling and resource recovery sector and contributing to sustainable development and enterprise profits by enabling management at MRFs to overcome significant operational challenges that include labour costs, employee reliability and availability, sorting quality and efficiency, and risk of contaminated waste commodities.
As the Australasian Authorised Systems Integrator for Canadian company Waste Robotics, Diverseco understands the many benefits of sensor-based robotics sorting systems that have been specifically designed for use by the recycling and resource recovery sector.
These systems employ advanced multiple sensor streams, industrial robots, and machine learning and artificial intelligence (Al) systems to automate the sorting and segregation of recyclable commodities in the following waste streams: single-stream materials recovery facilities; mixed-waste processing facilities; construction and demolition waste sorting facilities, and plastics reclaimers and others.
Waste Robotics systems can differentiate between items that appear to be made of the same material, such as PETE, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP and PS plastics. It can also be used to sort natural wood, particleboard, painted wood, tainted wood, inert materials such as bricks, rocks and concrete, zinc and copper, aluminium cans and more. They can also differentiate between items that are stacked on the conveyor line.
In addition to reducing operational costs and Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) risks by replacing human pickers in recycling centres, the vision-guided robotics systems increase the pick rate and quality of recovered waste that will re-enter production processes as secondary raw materials.