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.
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.
- 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)
- 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.
- The labels are made with food-safe materials and can be safely used with food-service packaging.
- Labels can be made in a variety of colors
- Labels can be easily integrated in manufacturing processes of plastic packaging.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Greater recoverability and therefore recycling of said packaging and
- Lower contamination and increased recycling viability of glass.