Sensors to sort waste—or diamonds

TOMRA’s machines aim to keep plastic waste out of the ocean by sorting returns better


Photo courtesy of TOMRA: TOMRA’a auto sort laser employs a sensor combination capable of detecting more material properties at the same point simultaneously. This allows for sorting material, recyclables, and waste fractions more efficiently.

Rasmus Falck
Oslo, Norway

Awareness of pollution, and especially plastics in the ocean, is increasing. Recently, a small whale was captured on Norway’s west coast with 30 plastic bags in its belly. It also contained a plastic bottle with the text “London Marathon.” In early May, “Keep Norway Clean” had its annual Strandryddedagen (beach cleaning day).” This is Norway’s largest dugnad (volunteer event), when thousands of volunteers clean up the sea front and around lakes and rivers throughout the country. This year, over 100,000 people participated, including Prime Minister Erna Solberg and other ministers. The government donated NOK 130 million for the fight against marine waste.

One of the corporate innovators in the field is TOMRA. It started with the first reverse vending machine in 1972, collecting and recycling of cans and bottles. The company was founded by the brothers Tore and Petter Planke. In the early days, the employees used to give a 20-minute presentation at the annual general meeting. I remember one of these. They were launching a new model. On the stage, they used an old-fashioned electric starting device for explosions, like in the old western movies. As the model finished, the video screen rockets started to go back and forth underneath the ceiling in the conference room to enormous applause. I talked with Tore afterwards and he said that they had burned some of the curtains.

Today, the company provides the most innovative sensor-based sorting solutions of waste. A report by the Ellen McArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum estimated that the current rate of plastic waste entering the oceans will mean there is more plastic than fish by 2050. The European Union has defined new and more aggressive recycling targets, requiring plastic recycling levels of 50 percent by 2025 and 55 percent by 2030.

At this year’s shareholders meeting, TOMRA CEO Stefan Ranstrand informed that the Australian province of New South Wales last year introduced a deposit system. Queensland, Australia, and Scotland have also communicated their intention to introduce deposit systems. Similar discussions are developing in numerous countries. These new regulations drive demand for collection technologies and sorting equipment in the recycling sector. TOMRA, as the No. 1 global provider of sensor-based solutions for collecting and sorting of waste, is well positioned to meet this demand, said Ranstrand.


Photo courtesy of TOMRA: The auto-sorting process, simplified.

Last year, TOMRA launched its auto-sort laser. This offers a powerful sensor combination capable of detecting more material properties at the same point simultaneously. With this, they can sort material fractions more efficiently. TOMRA Mining also experienced good growth, particularly within its gemstone-sorting sector. It also achieved a first with its delivery of sorting technology to a kimberlite waste sorting plant in Canada. Ranstrand finished his presentation with a story of how one of their machines was used at a mine in South Africa to go through the waste that had already passed through a competitor’s machine. They found a 920-carat diamond worth $72 million. In total, the machine managed to sort out diamonds worth $250 million dollars. The cost of the machine was $2 million.

As the world’s population increases, the pressure on available resources continues. Every year, 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans, heavily disrupting marine life. The population is getting wealthier and more urbanized and they demand more food and convenience. As a result, the need for the company’s products is steadily increasing. Climate change creates more business opportunities than risks.

Rasmus Falck is a strong innovation and entrepreneurship advocate. The author of “What do the best do better” and “The board of directors as a resource in SME,” he received his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

This article originally appeared in the June 15, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.


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