18.10.2022

Digitization meets sustainability

DOW Pouch-to-pouch concept receives digital product passport to enable tracebility for better recycling

Dow, HP Indigo, Reifenhäuser, Cadel Deinking and Karlville showcase how the digital product passport unleashes the potential of recyclable packaging.

Building on the successful delivery of the first-of-its-kind pouch-to-pouch mechanical recycling concept, Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics (P&SP), a business unit of Dow (NYSE: DOW), together with HP Indigo, Reifenhäuser, Cadel Deinking and Karlville have implemented the application of a digital product passport using the R-Cycle database. R-Cycle is a cross-company initiative to develop an open and globally applicable traceability standard for sustainable plastic packaging.

Circular economy needs information
For a functioning circular economy for plastic packaging, two prerequisites are needed: The first is fully recyclable packaging which also uses the highest possible recycled content. The pouch-to-pouch recycling concept has impressively demonstrated this requirement. Secondly: For such a material cycle to work under real conditions for post-consumer waste streams, the waste sorting and recycling process must improve fundamentally.

In a complex waste stream consisting of a wide variety of products, it is not yet possible today to separate by type of plastic, ingredients and use of the flexible packaging, for instance for food, medicines or chemicals. These current recycling constraints result in a low-quality mixture of different plastics that can only be used in recycling to a very limited extent. As a rule, they end up in thermal recycling or, at best, in downcycling. A key reason for this is a lack of information to sort plastic waste into unmixed fractions and thus turn them into a valuable raw material for new products.

The passport to pouch circularity
R-Cycle provides exactly this information, and the best part is: the information already exists. Production and ERP systems capture, write and analyze all conceivable information related to a package. All that needs to be done is to aggregate the relevant information and transport it along the value chain. The vehicle for this is the so-called digital product passport. In the pouch-to-pouch recycling concept, all recycling-relevant information about the packaging is recorded in a standardized data record – i.e., among other things, the type of plastic, printing color or recycled content – and can be retrieved via a marker.

In this way, industrial sorting plants can access the product passports of the packaging and form waste fractions that are sorted by type accordingly. Thanks to the digital product passport, high-quality and transparent streams of recyclable materials can be created, which can be recycled accordingly for applications of equal or higher value.

Dr. Benedikt Brenken, Director R-Cycle, explains, “The digital product passport is a powerful tool to enable an efficient and data-based circular economy. R-Cycle is thus exploiting the potential of digitalization, as politically demanded by the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan. Most importantly, we use an open and interoperable infrastructure based on proven standards that is accessible to every market participant.”

Romain Cazenave, EMEA Marketing Director at Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics, commented, “In our efforts to drive the adoption of PE-rich monomaterial pouches designed for recyclability, it is key to retain the quality of flexible plastic packaging throughout the value chain into the next applications after recycling. The Digital Product Passport by R-Cycle provides a seamless documentation of all necessary data of the PE-rich pouch with recycled content along its lifecycle. This quality information is crucial to help obtaining high-quality recyclates and to accelerate our journey to achieve the circular economy of plastic packaging. Through Pack Studios, Dow is contributing to industry-scale testing and production capabilities to accelerate the development of such projects globally.”

Brand owners benefit from automation and efficient reporting
In addition to product sustainability, the digital product passport enables highly efficient data reporting – from the beginning of the value chain to the final product. Brand owners in particular can automate the calculation of (emerging) legal information requirements and, for example, report proof of recycled material, recyclability or CO2 footprint “at the push of a button”. Product information for consumers can also be generated automatically from the digital product passport. Another use case is detailed tracing, for example for quality assurance in the manufacturing process.

See the Digital Product Passport in action at K fair 2022
R-Cycle will present these and other application examples of the digital product passport this year for the first time from October 19 to 26 at the world’s leading trade fair for plastics processing K 2022. Visit us at booth CE 07 in the Circular Economy Forum right at the center of the show.