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Waste Sorting: Challenges of waste management with regard to sorting and separation technology

Tamara Kornfeind

Waste as a valuable product

Everyone produces waste, but what are we supposed to do with it all? The fact is that the requirement to recover valuable raw materials is high on waste management companies’ agendas. This means waste should be processed so that the secondary raw materials obtained from it can be reused to replace primary raw materials. The aim is to reduce the volume of waste deposited in landfills and limit their burden on the environment.

How Can these intentions be achieved, though?

Federal Government, Federal States and other communities are developing methods to recycle waste in an environmentally friendly way. The EU has already set a number of specific targets: in the case of plastics, all plastic waste within the EU should be recyclable by 2030. In addition, a new regulation stipulates that the maximum landfill quota for municipal waste may not be more than 10 percent from 2035.

Collecting waste is one thing, but recovering and recycling it is quite another. As a result, waste management companies find themselves in a new role as not only waste disposers, but also waste processors.

Waste management companies must now process collected waste as effectively as possible. This involves a wide variety of separation and sorting processes.


Waste sorting is increasingly done by industrial robots. But what are the technologies needed to keep sorting pure? Read all about it in our blog:

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Which sorting and separation techniques do you know about?

Sorting and separating does not always work according to the same scheme. The processes can quickly become confusing, so procedures are needed to bring order back into the chaos. Sorting and separation processes are part of mechanical waste treatment. Separation is one treatment sub-process along with crushing, agglomeration and mixing. Mechanical waste separation also has sub-divisions:

  • Classification: separation according to geometric properties, and

  • Sorting: separation according to material properties.

As already described above, waste management uses various separation technology methods to extract valuable products from the waste. First, the waste is separated from all impurities and pollutants and then sorted into waste fractions with similar material properties.  You can read all about how sorting robots can be used to process waste in our blog post on “Industrial Robots Help in Waste Disposal”.

The Challenges of waste separation

Separating waste into usable secondary raw materials is not always easy, despite the fact that technical processes are already very well developed. As you can imagine, some people do not recognize the added value of waste separation and so do not separate their waste correctly. To be able to sort efficiently and cost-effectively, the waste should be separated if possible prior to collection. This initial separation step already greatly reduces contamination from other waste.

Impurities in the individual waste fractions are particularly significant when it comes to processing in sorting and separation plants. Contamination and residual build-up influence the purity of concentrates and make it difficult to detect individual fractions in the sorting plant, especially when sensors are being used. Waste often consists of various composite materials. For example, packaging made of different plastics may be laminated together, which makes it much more difficult to separate or allocate it to a single fraction.

The properties of some materials are often beyond what separation and sorting processes can handle. This is the case, for example, with very thin films which, due to their low wall thickness and low density, are difficult to eject during the separation process.

Separation technology still offers a lot of potential for further developments. Ever-faster data evaluation and image processing, in conjunction with robotics and sensor technology, open up many new areas of application. New intelligent technologies allow for ever-better plant concepts and, above all, larger industrial plants.

However, it is often difficult to integrate these new technologies into existing waste management facilities. This is why it is particularly important that these newly developed plant concepts are properly taken into account when constructing new plants.


Is sorting waste child’s play? Our expert Tamara Kornfeind reveals the 7 myths about waste separation

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Companies and their processing plants are increasingly growing along with the requirement to transform waste into valuable raw materials. As technology develops, so does the need for digitization. Companies now find it essential to monitor the plant, the waste streams and to calculate the costs incurred. As a pioneer in the field of digitalization, COSMO CONSULT is the perfect partner for you when it comes to healthy and sustainable company growth. We developed the “cc environmental services” industry solution together with our experts in the field of waste management and have been alongside waste management companies on their way into a digital future.

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