SORT-IT: Increase plastic food and drink packaging recycling rates for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) - Using ultra low cost electronics to enable new methods of waste identification and sorting.
CR&D Competition Type: Manufacturing made smarter: digital supply chain, feasibility studies
The current F&D packaging supply-chain is well connected and tracked from feedstock to retailer outlets due to the need for food safety and stock control. However, beyond the retailer, the packaging supply-chain through the consumer, waste collection, recovery and recycling is very limited. Many challenges exist in separating recyclable, non-recyclables, compostables, and contaminates in F&D waste streams.
This SORT-IT feasibility-study would analyse and evaluate the feasibility of digitalisation and intelligent automation in the F&D packaging supply-chain for waste-management through tagging technology to facilitate the tracking and sorting of packaging waste.
Our vision is that, following later industrial-research, SORT-IT would increase the environmental and economic sustainability of the F&D packaging-manufacturing supply-chain, by enabling transition to a circular economy, drastically increasing recycling rates for food-grade plastics, and enabling packaging re-use.
Implementing tagging technology should enable:
- Increased rate of recycling and output of high-quality feedstock (including food-grade plastic) from waste.
- Brand-owners to track packaging and recycling rates for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)
- Low-cost Deposit Return Schemes (DRS) linked to consumer accounts through reverse vending machines and identification at materials recovery facilities (MRFs).
- Greater consumer engagement with brands through transparency of green credentials.
- Reduction of plastics going to landfill or entering land or aquatic environments.
The research would build on the unique technology for the manufacture of low-cost electronics (<1p) in very high-volumes (billions p.a.) by PragmatIC and link with the growing technologies of collaborative-automation, Industry 4.0 and machine-learning to tag and track packaging with unique identifiers.
The tags would provide individual items with unique identifiers readable by RFID and NFC equipment, including smartphones; information would be exchanged via internet-enabled systems to cloud-storage to facilitate supply-chain tracking and consumer engagement. MRFs would employ multiple RFID readers in conjunction with low-cost vision systems to locate items and drive fast robotic-pickers and collaborative robotic arms to sort and separate packaging waste efficiently and safely.
This feasibility-study would be led by PragmatIC working with Sheffield University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC-Cymru) guided by an Industrial-Advisory-Board. PragmatIC is a high-growth innovation-driven SME, headquartered in Cambridge, with a billion-unit production-facility in Sedgefield, County Durham.