With recycling playing an ever-greater role in efforts around the world to tackle the problem of plastic packaging waste, one of the problems that has emerged as among the most urgent is the need for better sorting. The quality of the recyclate produced would be considerably enhanced if recyclers were able to sort and process plastic packaging into purer fractions. However, to do so, a system must be developed to enable the clear identification of the different types of plastics used in the production of this packaging.
This inability to identify the composition of the collected plastic packaging waste is also one of the main reasons for the current low rate of recycling in Germany. According to the consortium partners in the R-Cycle initiative, only about 6% of the plastics in domestic waste are actually recycled: over 65% ends up in waste incinerators.
R-Cycle, a cross-company project, was established to tackle precisely this challenge, through the creation of a digital product passport, designed to enable recyclers to identify all the different materials and processes used to create the product. The importance of this effort has now received official recognition: R-Cycle has been named the winner of the German Sustainability Award 2021 in the packaging category. Held for the fourteenth time this year, the award is backed by the German Federal Government and other stakeholders; its patron is the former Federal Minister, Brigitte Zypries.
R-Cycle is designed as an open-standard data platform that creates traceability for packaging. Users enter and record all the recycling-relevant properties of a pack during its production and passes this information along the value chain. The collected information is retrievable through the use of a machine-readable digital marker, such as a QR or Digimarc code, on the pack.
This allows waste sorting plants to identify recyclable packaging, which can then be sorted into recyclable fractions.
"We are delighted to receive this award," says Dr. Benedikt Brenken, who is the director of the R-Cycle Initiative. "Digitalisation and sustainability are two megatrends that we have integrated beneficially in R-Cycle. The use of a digital product passport, as also required by the European Union, offers enormous potential to increase the recycling rate of plastic packaging."
R-Cycle is under development to market maturity by leading companies and organisations from every stage of the plastic packaging life cycle. The partners in the consortium are currently Arburg, Brückner Maschinenbau, Comexi, Erema Group, GS1 Germany, Institut für Kunststoffverarbeitung (IKV), Kampf, Kautex Maschinenbau, Multivac, Prodata, Reifenhäuser Group, and Steinert.