Sorting faster and better

Where should I throw away my old mobile phone? For the past few years, our companies are also major producers of an increasing variety of waste. Thus, with the arrival of new technologies “that everyone has”, a new category of waste is becoming increasingly invasive: non-ferrous metals. This includes aluminium, copper, zinc and lead, whose high levels in our waste is becoming a problem. The solution is therefore recycling, but to recycle you have to sort. And to sort, the various components have to be separated. Easy for an office chair, less so for a mobile phone or a computer.

Triage déchêts non-ferreux

Every year in Europe, there is six million tons of electrical and electronic waste – also called WEEE (Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment, mobile phones, computers, GPS, etc.). Approximately 13 % of it is composed of non-ferrous metals. This is where the European project, Sormen, comes in: it aims to develop a faster and more profitable sorting technique. It uses the hyperspectral imaging principle, which enables the various components of waste to be sorted according to the wavelength (i.e. the colour) of the light they reflect. While the cameras are similar to those used in television, they do however benefit from technological advances particular to the space sector, i.e. those mastered by CSL (Liège Space Centre). “Space attracts technology and, in general, must greatly benefit industry,” remarks Pierre Franco, an industrial engineer working at CSL. And while “the technology isn’t revolutionary,” he confides, “its application is.” The sorting of this type of material is, indeed, relatively slow. In Asia, where sorting is done by hand, though in precarious conditions, it is just as fast as it is in Germany; however, the profitability threshold is insufficient owing to the costs generated by the techniques used.

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