PRESS: Umwelt Magazin

Europe's most modern sorting plant for packaging waste in Gernsheim sets standards in terms of sorting depth and variety purity with its state of the art technology. The system designed and realized by Sutco® RecyclingTechnik GmbH also fulfills the requirements of the new packaging ordinance with regard to the required quotas and an adaptation to new sorting fractions.

In its current issue (July / August 2018), the "Umwelt Magazin" reports extensively on the installation of the operator "MEILO Gesellschaft zur Rückgewinnung sortierter Wertstoffe mbH & Co. KG".

The german online version of the article can be found in the e-paper edition of Umweltmagazin at

The most advanced LWP plant in Europe
by Martin Vogt

According to the Meilo operating company, this is the most advanced sorting plant for lightweight packagings in Germany and Europe: 120,000 tons of lightweight packagings are to be sorted annually at Gernsheim at a recycling rate of up to 53% - this is ensured by sophisticated sorting equipment.
Things will become more critical for the recycling industry from 1 January 2019: The new packaging law becoming effective then provides for a recycling rate of 50% for plastics, metals and composite packagings. The new sorting plant at the Hessian Gernsheim (Groß-Gerau county) is the latest of its type which has consistently been designed for the ambitious rate – and the currently most modern sorting plant in Germany and Europe. “A lighthouse for the recycling industry” managing director Mr. Michael Wieczorek says.

120,000 tons annually
“Meilo” is an acronym consisting of the first syllables of two partners. The Meinhardt Städereinigung GmbH & Co. KG as well as the Lobbe Entsorgung West GmbH & Co. KG which have a share of 50% each are the operating companies. The most modern plant sorts the contents from the yellow bag and the yellow bin and/or the recycling bin for being recycled later. Here, the lightweight packagings fractions from the dual systems from Hesse, Northern Bavaria, parts of Baden-Wurttemberg and two areas of North-Rhine Westphalia are recycled.
The maximum annual capacity of 120,000 tons of lightweight packagings corresponds to the waste from approximately 4.5 million inhabitants or about five percent of the German population. 40 trucks for input and 25 trucks for output make deliveries to the plant.

Twelve recycling fractions
Here, are total of twelve different recyclable fractions are sorted and delivered to the recycling process, including tinplate from tinned food, aluminium from beverage cans, PET trays from vegetable packagings as well as beverage cartons. The latter are delivered to the paper industry for obtaining high-quality paper fibres. “In addition to this, we sort MPO-Flex” says Mr. Klaus Bertmann, who took care of the plant at the beginning of trial operation. He talks about a special form of polypropylene-based film in a format smaller than DIN A4.

1.3 kilometres of sorting belts
The basic design of Meilo is no magic. It is similar to the raw-material recycling plant at Iserlohn which Mr. Lobbe designed some years ago and is in operation snow. First of all, the packages of the sorting material are opened by slow-speed equipment and shredders and are then transported by a conveyor belt to the machine hall (all Meilo conveyor belts have a total length of approx. 1.3 kilometres). Three trommel screens having different opening widths sort the recyclables first, and four magnetic separators attract tinplate and aluminium.

First of all, traditional sorting equipment
Then, the flow passes five wind sifters which blow out loose parts such as film pieces and newspaper pages. The sorting material runs through the plant in different partial flows.
The described stations have been state-of-the-art sorting equipment since the 80ies – basically, since the beginning of sorting equipment – but the high recycling rates can only be achieved by advanced additional equipment, i.e. electronic and/or optical identification systems. Two eddy-current separators, which generate an electric field, withdraw non-magnetic parts like packagings from the sorting flow.

Then. sophisticated infrared equipment
The particularly complex near-infrared scanning equipment is the heart of Meilo – and was promoted by the Federal Republic with 2.67 million Euros from the environmental innovation program. The plant design relies on a large number of these sorting stations: Near-infrared spectrometers can distinguish from a shampoo bottle of polyethylene (PE), a bottle of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and a yoghurt cup of polystyrene (PS) just passing the plant.
Approx. 30 centimetres behind the light beam there is a battery of compressed-air nozzles which ejects the previously detected sorting material from the flow by an eight-bar pressure pulse. 22 of these sensor-based sorting machines (near-infrared spectrometers) operate in Meilo at the same time. Further progress with respect to the recycling depth will above all be expected from this equipment. Meilo already allows the separation of PP and OPP which is new in the industry.

Manual post-sorting still necessary
“The sooted black packagings are still a great problem for recycling. Since they do not reflect the light of the scanner, we cannot sort them”, Mr. Bertmann explains. Therefore, even the most advanced sorting plant needs reliable hands: A whole number of parallel belts separates the plastic sorting flow – and on each of them the sorting process is manual; films run on three belts alone.
The separated flows enter material bunkers from which the packeting and baling presses obtain their material and press it to form highly compacted cubes. Finally, it ends up in the outdoor area of Meilo.

Close to the theoretically possible maximum
Since 21 February 2018 the plant was run in trial operation to match the individual plant sections. Since then, Mr. Manuel Götz, plant manager of Meilo, manages the plant with its 60 employees. The plant was officially inaugurated on 22 June 2018. Being run in two-shift operation, the operating companies intend an extension to three shifts to speed up the plant to full utilization in the second half-year of 2018.
With its designed recycling rate of 53 percent, which has almost been achieved up to now, Meilo does not only exceed the legal requirements but is also very close to the theoretical optimum. Based on the experience of the current operating months, deliveries still contain 30 percent of miss-sortings – a dead cat was a strange miss-sorting – and the delivered material contained 16 percent of non-recyclable plastics. Thus, 54 percent of recyclable material are left over.

Meilo in Figures

  • Operating companies: Lobbe Entsorgung Wet GmbH& Co. KG and Meinhardt Städtereinigung GmbH&co. KG
  • Size of the plant: 90 metres x 50 metres x 13 metres
  • Investments: 32 million Euros
  • Built area: 3.2 ha
  • Trial operation: since 21 February 2018
  • Annual throughput: up to 120,000 tons of lightweight packagings
  • Work organization: 3-shift operation, 60 employees
  • Desired recycling rate. 53% of recyclable material, 47% for energetic use
  • Conveyor belts. Approx. 1300 meters
  • Technical equipment: 3 trommel screens, 4 magnetic separators, 2 eddy-current separators, 5 wind sifters, 4 ballistic separators, 22 sensor-based sorting machines (near-infrared spectrometers), 1 packeting press, 2 bale presses
  • Recyclables sorted out for re-use: 3% aluminium, 10.2% tinplate, 6% polypropylene (PP), 8.5 % film, 2.2% polyethylene (PE), 1.5% polyethylene terephthalate (PET), 1.0% polystyrene (PS), 10% mixed plastics (PO-flex), 6% FKN, 5% PPK.

AI and the future of waste separation Whoever hears of AI, will involuntarily think of robots mounting car parts, chess-playing computers or navigation systems for surgeons. But waste? Recyclables? The waste disposal industry, one of the fastest growing industries in Germany, uses AI already today. Thus, the Lobbe recyclable treatment plant at Iserlohn, one of the most advanced plants in this country, benefits from its AI. “The requirements for such automatic identification and sorting processes are developed further. Therefore, the product specifications of plastic types change” says Mr. Michael Wieczorek, managing director of the Lobbe Entsorgung West GmbH & Co. KG. The term AI is used to mean processes which are not always repeated by machines; differentiation, decision and change is at issue – briefly, co-thinking AI features learning ability so that such systems can respond to new requirements “intelligently”. Accordingly, AI systems should have human-like decision structures. One of these dynamic challenges is a drastic change in packaging materials and compositions. Polystyrene, which was the standard packaging of yoghurt, vanishes slowly. Instead, sooted, crystalline or foamed packagings are on the rise. A most modern and efficient recyclable sorting plant must be capable of distinguishing them so that the plant continues to achieve the sorting rates. At the same time, the equipment must identify the miss-sortings – old clothes or diapers - cannot be recycled. Here, AI must think as well and adapt to changing general conditions. On the one hand, the packaging law provides for a higher quality of the sorted material and, on the other hand, new materials which have to be sorted by sources emerge again and again.