What is Polytag?
Polytag is a cutting edge technology which can ‘tag and trace’ household recycling, thereby enabling brands to work with their customers to keep packaging in circulation for longer and creating a high-value material feedstock in the process.
Polytag is being developed by waste conversion specialists Econpro, and the forthcoming community trial has received funding support from recycling compliance scheme Ecosurety.
Polytag enables brands to ‘tag’ their packaging at the point of manufacture. This tag is communicated to the Polytag cloud and stored until paired with packaging that has been retagged by consumers. This enables brands to trace their packaging, then separate it from the existing waste stream and recycle it in batches of identical plastic polymer, creating a high-value, high-grade plastic feedstock at a potentially lower price which can be reused by the same brand multiple times.
Through this process a more circular recycling system is created, limiting the negative impact that the production of packaging has on the environment.
How will it work?
Polytag intends to use a unique printing system to place a Product Assigned Code (PAC) onto pre-identified packaging at the point of production. This code will be unique to the individual product – akin to a ‘product fingerprint’. Each product will have two identical codes printed on it – one visible one, to be scanned by the consumer, the other – a UV spectrum code – by for use by the brand, at the point of production and then Polytag, when the packaging is returned for recycling.
It is envisaged that once a product is ready to be recycled, the consumer scans the PAC code using the Polytag mobile phone app. (This pairs the packaging with the code stored on the Polytag cloud and enables the participating brand to identify the location of its Polytagged packaging). Consumers will be provided with instructions on how to clean and prepare the packaging for the recycling process.
Once the platform is fully adopted, rather than placing the Polytag-scanned products in a kerbside recycling bin, it is intended that consumers will arrange for a collection or simply return the packaging to participating retailers or community recycling champions from where it will be collected by Polytag.
Packaging returned to a Polytag-enabled MRF will be scanned again. Same-batch packaging is regrouped and once a sufficient quantity has been collected, it is recycled into high-grade plastic pellets or granulate that can be returned to the packaging site for the participating brand.
The Process (technical)
The Polytag system is based on the principles of tracking – using a unique 12-digit marking system, which each plastic product is assigned.
Two ‘Polytags’, or codes are printed onto the packaging at the point of manufacture as follows:
- Black Visible Spectrum Marking – this is done with a proprietary marking system. A good example of such a technique is the best before date, which can be found on many food products. This Polytag PAC would be placed directly onto the packaging and is visible by the consumer.
- UV Spectrum marking system – this provides the same core data as the visible Polytag but, being in the UV spectrum, it can be placed around the bottle so it is still visible when the packaging is crushed or damaged. Being invisible, the UV spectrum mark does not interfere with product branding and enables better detection during the recycling phase by the Polytag proprietary vision system CirculAI®
- Polytagged products are labelled as above at point of manufacture then logged onto the CirculAI cloud then distributed to retailers.
- Consumer purchases product. Once ready to recycle the packaging, the consumer will remove any required labels and scan the PAC code on the packaging using a Polytag app on their phone.
- The app will instruct the consumer on how to prepare the packaging for recycling. This will include information such as rinse, remove caps / labels.
- Consumer then places packaging in a) a Polytag bag for collection or b) returns to participating retailer or community recycling champion where Polytag will facilitate collection.
- The consumer is updated – via the Polytag app – on the journey of his/her packaging and notified when it has been returned to the Polytag MRF for reprocessing. Retailers and brands can incentivise collection through a ‘Circular Reward’® setting that provides rewards and updates on recycling collection targets.
What is Polytag’s Market Appeal?
Consumer engagement / empowermentConsumers are placing more pressure on brands to account for the full lifecycle of their packaging. Polytag enables brands to communicate with their customers about the lifecycle of a product. It recognises the consumer’s role in the recycling system and empowers brands to incentivise their customers to recycle.
Environmental impact reductionBy isolating packaging feedstocks at an early stage, the Polytag technology eliminates the need for so many energy intensive reprocessing stages. This approach improves the efficiency of the existing recycling system by reducing CO2 emissions as well as moving it towards a more circular system where brands work with consumers to keep materials away from landfill and in circulation for longer.
Unique datasetPolytag’s tracking software will offer brands ample opportunity to capture data regarding the location, lifecycle, consumer habits, collected volumes of their packaging. It will present recycling rates for different packaging products and provide evidence for forthcoming EPR changes and recycling regulations.
The future of Material Recycling FacilitiesWhile the marking applications can be integrated into the packaging supply chain, it is envisaged Polytag will set up a series of own-brand MRF’s across the country, growing in line with demands. These MRFs will deal specifically with high-grade feedstock, which will be produced at a higher rate and significantly lower price than existing feedstocks. The high-grade feedstocks can be delivered back to the manufacturer thereby creating a loop out of a previously linear chain.
Corporate brands including high street retailers and multinational manufacturers who use high quantities of plastic PET, HDPE packaging or aluminium.