SPRITE - Sustainable Plastics Recycling Innovation by Tagging Electronically

Abstract

Plastic packaging waste is a \>$80Bn global opportunity according to the World Economic Forum. Only 14% of plastic packaging reaches recycling plants and only 9% is actually being recycled, whilst 40% ends up in landfill. The UK's Clean Growth Strategy has a goal to reduce emissions from landfill and achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050\. One way to reduce emissions from landfill is to stop the avoidable waste from reaching it. This will be achieved by a combination of actions generally grouped into reduce (removing unnecessary packaging) and re-use (refillable schemes and recycling) categories. Progress on all these has seen a significant setback during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whilst there is rightly focus on reducing the amount of plastic that is consumed it is not practical to eliminate all plastic due to its many benefits including it being lightweight (with associated low transport costs and carbon footprint) and its robustness. It is, therefore, essential to increase recycling rates and quality so that the highest material value is retained for reuse. Most approaches to improving recycling have looked to make the sorting/identification systems smarter, for example using infra-red to identify types of plastics. Relatively little activity has been directed towards making the packaging smarter so that it is easier to identify, sort, separate, reprocess and reuse. Our project focuses on simplifying and increasing recycling of plastics by providing a machine readable unique digital identity onto each pack. This new capability provides a technology platform that can enable a wide-range of different innovations and applications. An emerging approach is to incentivise consumers to recycle plastics using so-called reverse-vending machines (RVMs). Each plastic bottle has a deposit which can be redeemed by consumers when they return their plastic bottles into one of the RVMs, and then exchanged against future purchases. Within Europe these have been rolled-out widely across Germany where now only 3% of plastic bottles are not returned. Although these are already proving successful, some limitations of current RVMs are: - line-of-sight to detection - low throughput - lack of unique identity limits information and is open to fraud - integrated separation/sorting is difficult and expensive Within the project we will investigate the use of PragmatIC's ultra low-cost RFID technology to drive improvements within recycling, specifically demonstrating potential use-cases for deposit-return schemes such as reverse-vending machines.

Lead Participant

Project Cost

Grant Offer

Pragmatic Semiconductor Limited, SEDGEFIELD STOCKTON-ON-TEES £60,000 £ 60,000

Publications

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