The EU's Circular Economy Action Plan stipulates that by 2050 all plastic packaging must be completely recyclable and consist of at least 70 percent recycled material. The majority of plastic waste still ends up in landfills or incinerators – in the worst case, in the environment.
Huafeng Zhao. Copyright: private
In our interview with K-MAG, Huafeng Zhao talks about how the R-Cycle system is going to achieve the zero-waste target in the future circular economy.
Mr. Zhao, you are part of the R-Cycle initiative. What goals are being pursued there?
Huafeng Zhao: R-Cycle enables high-quality plastics recycling by identifying recyclable packaging as such and then separating it. In the past, we didn’t have a proper data management system like R-Cycle to support the plastic circular economy. Therefore, about 19 percent of plastic waste worldwide go into incineration, 50 percent ends up in landfills, and even 22 percent has been found directly in our environment. Only about 9 percent is recycled und reused for second-life product. For us, plastic is the new gold, we must help to educate the people to understand the values behind plastic products and also to understand how we should treat plastic in a right way.
How can this goal be achieved?
Zhao: We are working on an open and globally applicable tracing standard to ensure the traceability of recyclable packaging along the entire value chain. All recycling-relevant information – like material type, color, MFR, food or non-food, PCR/PIR content and so on – can be recorded by the machine control system during the production and transferred all these information in the form of the digital product passport. The tracing technology behind R-Cycle is based on GS1 standards. It is accessible to any production facility, from plastic film injection molding or extrusion blow molding machines through to converting, printing, filling, sorting and recycling machines. To retrieve the stored information, a marker – for example a QR or digital watermark code – is applied to the packaging. At the end, R-Cycle will improve the efficiency of the entire value chain, so that we will get more and more high qualified recycling materials in the future and ensure the traceability of plastic packaging along their whole life cycle.
The R-Cycle Community's goal is to find a cross-industry solution to achieve a zero-waste closed loop recycling system for plastics. Copyright: R-Cycle
In this context, you have also launched pilot projects. What are they about?
Zhao: In our first pilot project, we have developed two 1-liter bottles made of two different HDPE materials from Braskem. One variant is made of a bio-based PE from sugar cane. The second variant is made from recycled PE. In both bottles, we have implemented a QR code as a marker that can be scanned even by the camera of your mobile phone. In this way, all recycling-relevant information which we have via our machine has been stored in the database.
We have implemented digital watermark as new marking technology in our second pilot project. These digital watermark codes, which are almost invisible to the human eye, have been integrated into the entire surface of the packaging label, which are also be linked to the R-Cycle database platform. In this way, waste sorting systems with an appropriate system can sort the plastic waste in a much more precise way. Additionally, these codes can be read on any smartphone by each end-user by simply using the Digimarc app. Kautex’s know-how of the pilot project is development of the data collection system “R-Connector”, which functions as link and interface between the extrusion blow molding production and the cloud-based R-Cycle platform. By using the “R-Connector” in Kautex production solutions, all necessary production data will be recorded, analyzed, and uploaded to the R-Cycle server in real time.
A digital product passport such as a QR code on bottles or cans could contribute to more efficient recycling of plastics. Copyright: twenty20photos
You are working with many partners in the pilot project, but also generally at R-Cycle. Why do you think such collaboration is so important?
Zhao: In our pilot project, following our BeOne culture, we are working with raw material manufacturer Braskem, packaging manufacturer Kautex Textron and recycling specialist Morssinkhof Plastics. A system like R-Cycle will only work in the end of the day, if all the participants along the whole value chain working on one tracing standard. That is the reason why the R-Cycle community is a cross-industrial cooperation with companies, which are coming from different application areas in the plastic industry.
The R-Cycle Community is open to all companies, organizations or individuals who have a legitimate interest in the topic of future circular economy for smart added value plastic packaging. Here we want to highlight that Reifenhäuser is the founder of the R-Cycle system and Community. We as Kautex Maschinenbau are so glad to be one of the "first movers" in the R-Cycle Community. And our community is still keep growing with more and more new partners.
The R-Cycle system will only work if all the participants along the entire circular economy are aligned to take their responsibility and working together to develop one global tracing standard. Only through this way, everyone can get benefit from the future circular economy.
K-MAG, the online magazine of the world's leading and most important trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. News, opinions, pictures, films, interviews and much more from and for the global K community. Because K sees itself as a global communicator for innovations and trending topics. Not only every three years with THE live event of the plastics and rubber industry in Düsseldorf. The K-MAG is a continuous information and inspiration platform for the industry. It’s more than a trade fair – it’s a channel of communication. According to this principle, we offer informative and interactive exchange on industry-relevant topics.