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Smart labels for small plastic pacakging

Smart magnetic visual labels which complement brand designs, consumer psychology and importantly recycle infrastructure

Photo of Ravish Majithia
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INTRODUCTION

Small-format plastic packaging faces an environmental double-whammy. Such items are cheap to manufacture but hard to recycle precisely because they are small in form factor. We at Magnomer have redesigned small plastic packaging by adding smart functional labels to make them recycle-friendly. Such visual functional labels complement brand designs, consumer psychology and most importantly recycle infrastructure.

OUR SOLUTION

In a cradle-to-cradle type approach we focus modifying current small-format plastic packaging so as to complement current widely prevalent curbside recycle infrastructure. We do so by adding functionality using visual magnetizable labels. Such labels help brands visually showcase their sustainability mission right on the product. Consumers do nothing except discard packaging in recycle bins as usual. Once in recycle processing facilities (MRFs), Magnomer labels show off their functional properties. These labels render plastic objects completely magnetizable and enable automated separation by industrial magnetic separators. 

IMPORTANT FEATURES

Recycle-related

  1. Our patent pending labels are designed with APR (Association of Plastic Recyclers) guidelines in mind. This means that there are no detrimental impact to recycling post segregation at Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs)
  2. The end product (eg: a Magnomer designed spoon or bottle cap) is intended to be discarded curbside single or dual stream collection programs. MRFs will be able to recover Magnomer-designed packaging by use of commercial magnetic separators. 


Manufacture-related

  1. The labels are made with food-safe materials and can be safely used with food-service packaging. 
  2. Labels can be made in a variety of colors
  3. Labels can be easily integrated in manufacturing processes of plastic packaging.


TECHNICAL VIABILITY

At Magnomer, we have undergone extensive prototyping and pilot tests to prove technical viability. As seen in our preliminary video below – our labels can be applied to various types of packaging.

We have also done pilot runs on commercial benchtop-scale magnetic separators. In a sample test shown below, we successfully recover 28 mm plastic bottle caps. In this test, we have a mixture of standard 28 mm (blue) bottle caps which have not been modified (i.e: the non-magnetic fraction) and 28 mm white caps which have a single Magnomer smart label (red) around their circumference. The test shows separation between them.

(Video Runs 26 seconds)

In our tests, we carefully stimulated real-life complications of:

  • Burden depth (the amount of material on a conveyer belt at any given time) and
  •  Conveyor belt speeds


Our current tests with a benchtop-size commercial magnetic separator shows an average of 89% recovery for 25-28 mm bottle caps. While there is still room for improvement with larger MRF-scale magnets, which we will confirm in our commercial MRF pilots, our in-house pilot tests clearly prove commercial-scale viability

MRF Pilot (planned)


Magnomer, LLC currently has plans in place to pilot and test modified caps and cutlery in a MRF owned by Casella Waste Systems, Inc (Nasdaq: CWST). In this pilot, Magnomer will seed labelled cutlery (manufactured by Recycline, LLC – www.preserveprodcuts.com) and labelled 28 mm bottle caps in Casella’s MRF facilities located in Auburn, MA. Magnomer-modified plastic ware will be recovered by the use of a drum-type magnetic separator installed at end-of-line for glass cullet. Our goal is 90% or greater recovery of targeted materials in the test

What's our MVP?

While our technology can be applied to various packaging items, we chose to focus on Type 5 (polypropylene) bottle caps and cutlery as our minimum viable product. This choice has been made after extensive concept validation with recyclers (MRFs) and manufacturers. Key reasons outlines below:



  1. Bottle caps and plastic cutlery are emblematic of the problem with small packaging. Recycling rates for plastic cutlery is negligent even in countries with the most advanced collection and sortation systems. The primary reason for this is lack of recoverability at MRFs for said items. These items behave like small glass shards in a single or dual stream MRFs and end up contaminating the glass fraction. Magnomer discovered that glass fractions at an average MRF in the US can contain anywhere between 10-20% plastic. Most of this plastic is bottle caps or cutlery.
  2. Most bottle caps and over 60% of cutlery in the US is made from Type 5 plastic. Strong market demand for recycled Type 5 plastic currently exists and is slated to grow in the coming years.
  3. Addition of Magnomer's labels can be done cost-effectively on bottle caps and cutlery from a manufacturing standpoint. 


A change in design of standard plastic cutlery and bottle caps to Magnomer's magnetizable design would enable 

  1. Greater recoverability and therefore recycling of said packaging and
  2. Lower contamination and increased recycling viability of glass.


Detailed Pitch Deck

Idea Title

Attractive Recycling

Company / Organization Name

Magnomer, LLC

Website

www.magnomer.com

Where are you / your team located?

Boston, MA, USA

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

CPG brands and packagers apply Magnomer labels on small-format packaging. Consumers discard Magnomer labelled packaging in recycling and are not required to change behavior. MRFs retrieve packaging from single-stream using magnetic separators. Packaging gets processed by re-claimers and recycled back into new products. The proposed redesign automates sorting of light-weight small format packaging thereby making recycling of said object both technologically and financially viable.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

While described approach applies to all use cases under consideration, largest applicability is for case 2 (bottle caps). Bottle caps behave as glass shards during sortation of recyclables. Application of smart magnetizable labels will allow retrieval of bottle caps from the glass stream directly with little cost to processors. A change in product design consequently directly co-relates to higher recycling in this case.

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

Countries with single or dual stream collection and existing Material Recovery facilities (MRFs). Currently testing in Boston, MA

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Controlled introduction of plastic cutlery and caps in the marketplace will be needed to test recovery rates. Tests in small geographies are currently planned. Wide-scale introduction to occur in step stages. Wide-scale introduction hinges on two key factors: 1) Commitment from large scale consumers and manufacturers of packaging (CPGs, QSRs and big-box retailers) to use described invention 2) Commitment from MRFs (waste management companies) to process magnetizable plastic packaging

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Prototyping: You have conducted some small tests or experiments with prospective users and will continue developing idea through these tests.
  • Piloting: You have started to implement your solution as a whole with a first set of real users. You may have started to develop a business model for your idea, including identifying key customer segments, relevant partnerships, go-to-market strategy, and draft financials.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

The NPE accelerator and its team of industry advisors can help us build strong relationships with our customers (packaging manufacturers). We would define success by collaborating with our first customer in launching a Magnomer-designed cutlery (or bottle cap). We also need seed funding to pilot our solution with a potential customer. NPE's seed money will help enable this in the short-term

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

The concept was born out of an idea of using magnetics to address the ever-growing problem of plastics waste. The idea came about to the founder of Magnomer (Ravish) during a serendipitous interaction while segregating waste for recycling during his PhD years. Research into the waste management chain led to multiple iterations of the concept leading up to its current form - a magnetizable label. Magnomer co-founder Vishal was a key participant in brainstorming.

Tell us about your work experience

Ravish Majithia - Magnomer founder - PhD (Materials Science, Texas A&M University), MBA (Babson College) Vishal Salian - Magnomer co-founder - PhD (Chemical Eng., Auburn University)

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Magnomer is an LLC based in MA, USA. Ravish Majithia and Vishal Salian both serve on the Board of Directors for Magnomer.

Please describe, in detail, your business model and how you intend to test and iterate this model.

Magnomer designs magnetizable packaging and manufactures materials related to implementation of its designs in two specific verticals. a) Plastic cutlery & b) Bottle caps We modify current product designs for manufacturers and brands to enable effective placement of Magnomer labels. Subsequently, we test recoverability in MRFs (if needed). For sustainable source of revenue, Magnomer will manufacture and supply materials related to implementation of its designs.

Please explain how your innovation will work within, potentially improve, and provide benefit to the plastics system.

Over 95% of people in the US have access to curbside recycling. Magnetizable functionality – added by means of Magnomer labels – serves to complement curbside recycling. The visual nature of Magnomer labels will reinforce discarding in recycle bins by average consumers. The magnetisable functionality of our design allows increased sortation of plastics by MRFs using industry standard magnetic separators and thereby serves to increase recycling of plastics and improve purity of glass cullets.

Please describe, in depth, how your solution will reduce the overall environmental footprint of packaging.

Currently, there is practically no recycling of small plastic items like bottle caps and cutlery. Magnomer labels will improve their recycle rates significantly (90% recovery observed in our in-house pilot testing). The labels themselves are made using completely recyclable materials (additional label weight ~1%) that are recoverable in the existing plastic recycling process with minor modifications. Non-toxic raw materials used so no environmental damage due to leakage/leaching is anticipated.

Please outline how your design, material, and delivery choices will influence price, and how you intend to address the price increase that may result from this solution.

Magnomer designs consists of labels which would add anywhere between 5-25% additional manufacturing cost for packaging. The additional cost gives brands immediate ROI in terms of a marketing benefit. The enhanced product design also allows brands to introduce a more recyclable, ecofriendly variant in their existing packaging options with a premium passed over to consumers. For MRFs on the downstream end, additional revenue will be generated due to better sorting of plastics from glass cullets.

Please explain how your solution will impact user behavior, and what design considerations you've included to ensure easy and intuitive interactions with your Idea. 

Over 95% of people in the US have access to curbside recycling. The key to our idea is that Magnomer labels – serve to complement curbside recycling by working with existing recycling infrastructure without requiring a change in consumer behaviour. The visual nature of Magnomer labels will reinforce discarding in recycle bins by average consumers. Lastly, our design enables increased sortation by MRFs and thereby serves to increase recycling rates using industry standard magnetic separators.

Please describe how you intend to use the prize funding, if selected as a Top Idea. Be specific.

a. Pilot test: Testing magnomer labelled caps and cutlery in a MRF owned by Casella Waste Systems, Inc. b. Technical Refinement: Modification of labels to improve scalability and reduce costs during large scale manufacturing c. Manufacturing setup

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Photo of Paula Baldó de Andrés
Team

It's a great idea!
I've seen magnets used in recycling facilities to select cans and other metal objects from the rest of the garbage, so I think this could be easy to implement.
The part that i find more difficult is finding a recyclable material that does not affect the process of recycling plastics. Tell us wich one will work when you find it!
Good luck!

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