In the media

Technology in recycling metals improves

By Maura Keller

American Recycler

01 July 2023

PA Consulting sustainability expert Alastair McFarlane is quoted in American Recycler discussing the metal recycling industry.

The article notes that technological advancements within the recycling sector have taken the metal recycling industry by storm, enhancing collection, identification, sorting and other key processes.

Alastair said leading material recovery facilities (MRFs) are integrating more advanced and diversified equipment, and making informed decisions through increased use of data analytics and machine learning. “They are combining higher resolution sensors and cameras with more advanced sorting equipment, with accompanying software to enable process optimization and automation. The result is high throughput and high accuracy identification and sorting of metal scrap.”

Some of today’s well-intentioned consumers negate the impact of their recycling efforts, especially when attention is paid to the contamination issue facing mixed-use recycling. But luckily, technology advancements are helping with this issue.

Alastair added that tackling contamination is a shared issue throughout the full value chain, and the most cost-effective interventions are arguably found upstream. “Nonetheless, combining multiple steps of metal separation, such as current separation optimized for different fractions of nonferrous scrap, with high-resolution color detection, can enable recovery of multiple fractions from even highly contaminated waste streams.”

Ultimately, there is a limit to purity levels that can be feasibly achieved. “Recognizing this reality, an exciting area of research is the development of machine learning tools that can assess the optimal secondary uses of materials based on contamination levels and profiles,” he said. “This offers the potential to preserve the economic value of recyclates.”

For MRFs, Alastair said the investment case for use of robotics will increasingly stack up as equipment costs drop and more seamless integration of sensors and robotic sorting is achieved. “Adoption will be fastest where the economics are in place for highest throughput, sorting accuracy and purity levels at MRFs.”

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