SORTATION: NIR, METALS, SIZE
While curbside recycling allows residents to commingle all materials for the sake of convenience and maximum participation, these commodities require separation and sortation to be sold to markets.
MRFs move materials through different sorting technologies of increasing specificity, starting by separating paper fiber and glass from containers, screening by size, then separating into streams by material, and in the case of plastic, by resin and color.
The plastic bales are then sent to the plastics reclaimer where the initial section of the process is a more refined package sortation using similar technologies as the MRFs.
Packages that are missorted at either the MRF or the plastic reclaimer are nearly always destined for the landfill. Proper sorting is critical to the recyclability of a package. Therefore APR has developed test methods that simulate the effect of sorting technologies on specific aspects of plastic container design. These tests can accurately predict whether a plastic article is successful in moving through the entire recycling process, or whether at some point a design feature causes a sortation error that directs the article to a disposal stream.
If an article doesn’t successfully pass through sortation testing, critical additional APR test methods will be invalid. Therefore, APR strongly recommends that any article or innovation with a likelihood of failing sortation, or where the fate of the article or innovation in a sortation system is unknown, should first be tested using APR’s sortation test protocols. APR has also developed Resource Documents to accompany each sortation test method, providing more background and context to this important step in evaluating package design for recyclability.
APR offers three Benchmark tests that evaluate the sorting potential of a plastic article:
- Evaluation of the Near Infrared (NIR) Sorting Potential of a Whole Plastic Article (SORT-B-01)
- Evaluation of Size Sorting Potential for Articles with at Least 2 Dimensions Less than 2 Inches (SORT-B-02)
- Evaluation of Sorting Potential for Plastic Articles Utilizing Metal, Metalized, or Metallic Printed Components (SORT-B-03)
APR also offers a Practice document that instructs test users on proper preparation of articles for sortation testing:
- A Practice for Compressing Plastic Articles for Laboratory Evaluation (SORT-PR-01)
APR is actively working on developing additional sortation tests, including tests for two-dimensional (i.e. flat) articles, and for colored articles. These tests will be added as they become available.