An Economical Alternative for Sorting Polymers on the Small Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Level

EPA Contract Number: 68D00278
Title: An Economical Alternative for Sorting Polymers on the Small Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Level
Investigators: Sommer, Edward J.
Small Business: National Recovery Technologies Inc.
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: II
Project Period: September 1, 2000 through September 1, 2002
Project Amount: $225,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase II (2000) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Hazardous Waste/Remediation , SBIR - Waste , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


It is known that for plastics recycling to be economically viable in the long term, the recycled resins must be competitive with virgin resins. The production of high-quality recycled resins capable of displacing virgin resins requires that the recycled resin stream be sorted to high purity levels. Currently, most plastics sorting is performed by expensive hand labor at small-scale municipal and community materials recovery facilities or by more cost-efficient automated bottle sorting at large-scale regional facilities utilizing high-tech sorting equipment. Unfortunately, the capital required to purchase currently available automated bottle sorting technologies is greater than what most small-scale material recovery facilities can afford. Thus, even with the available technologies, only small portions of plastics are recycled. Additionally, because of the high cost of collecting, handling, and sorting postconsumer plastics, the national plastics recycling rate has been declining since the mid-1990s. During the Phase I research, National Recovery Technologies, Inc. (NRT) established the feasibility of applying a new technology to the development of a low-cost multipolymer sorting system for installation in small material recovery facilities. This automated sorting system will be relatively inexpensive and will significantly reduce the high costs of plastics recycling for municipalities and communities. The objective of the proposed Phase II research is to implement the Phase I concept into a full-scale prototype sorting unit.

It is anticipated that upon successful completion of the Phase II research, the application of the sorting technology will improve the purity of the plastics recycling stream to near-virgin levels and promote a greater interest in collecting plastics for recycling. The proposed technology has substantial potential commercial application in the sorting of postconsumer plastics on the small municipal curbside recyclable materials recovery facility level, with nearly every state having legislation requiring specific levels of recycling (typically 25% by weight) to be achieved in the near future. Anticipated clients are the hundreds of materials recovery facilities in the United States and the increasing numbers of those abroad.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, solid waste, recycling, engineering, EPA., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Waste, Sustainable Industry/Business, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Municipal, Sustainable Environment, Technology for Sustainable Environment, New/Innovative technologies, Chemistry and Materials Science, Engineering, Environmental Engineering, municipal waste plastics, waste recycling, waste minimization, waste reduction, recovery, plastics sorting, polymer sorting, municipal waste, recycling, high speed automated sorting, polymers, plastics, materials recovery facility, material recovery facility, pollution prevention

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report

  • SBIR Phase I:

    An Economical Alternative for Sorting Polymers on the Small Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) Level  | Final Report