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Product labelling for circularity/durability/reparability

 

Product labels for circularity can encourage consumers to make more environmentally friendly purchasing choices, thus nudging manufacturers towards a more sustainable production (16);  help extend product lifespan by promoting repair over disposal (4); and ensure correct sorting and recycling of end-of-life products. 

 

They can include various lifecycle aspects, such as a product’s origin, energy efficiency, lifespan (i.e. durability, reparability and upgradeability), or its recyclability – although most consumer-oriented information is currently related to upstream and end-of-life aspects (16).  

Indeed, product lifespan labels for circular economy are still in the early stages of development, and are mostly private labels or voluntary schemes. Similarly, labels and certificates for used goods are relatively scant and tend to be limited to certain product groups (16). Other consumer-oriented labels are waste separation labels, which can improve the waste stream both at consumer and sorting plant level (9), and recycled content labels, which promote the use of recycled materials (16).  

 

In an increasingly digital and IoT-enabled economy, some manufacturers turn to interactive and smart labels. These solutions help engage consumers by providing an immersive consumer experience, maintain control over the supply chain and grant traceability, and fight counterfeiting (17).  

 

Product labels and Digital Product Passports, as proposed in the European Commission’s Sustainable Products Initiative (2), can play an important role in the transition to a circular economy, especially if paired with eco-labels and certification schemes. Their impact can be maximised by the integration with novel technologies such as functional materials and inks, Radio-frequency identification (RFID) and Near-field communication (NFC) technologies, blockchain, and IoT (11)

 

Smart Labels for circularity, durability, reparability, and recyclability 

Traditional optical markers (e.g. 1-dimensional barcodes, QR codes) are widely used to return static information about a product. Enabled by barcode scanning apps, they can redirect the consumer towards information on how to e.g. recycle a specific product or packaging (9), or disassemble, repair, and replace a component (21)

Further evolutions of product labelling are represented by RFID tags, novel QR codes with functional components (e.g. smart inks and indicators (14)), printable electronics, and new flexible chips (such as CAPID) – which can provide dynamic, context- and item-specific information (12) usually accessible through a smartphone. 

Depending on the technology, smart labels can thus carry information about origin and composition (20), environmental footprint, instructions for repair, recycling and disposal (18), but can also be sensitive to environmental conditions and provide real-time information and feedback.  

Examples of innovative solutions for smart labelling are TagItSmart tags and On Track RFID-tags. 

TagItSmart concept overview 

 

Smart Labels for zero-waste – food industry 

The experimentation with and use of smart inks and labels is more advanced in the sector of fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), especially for perishable food products. The use of such labels can maximise shelf life of products and help contribute to the reduction of food waste by monitoring the freshness of the product, detecting leakages, and monitoring after-opening time. Freshness smart labels can provide visual or tactile feedback, such as the IFLFSCTM, T-Sense Cold, and Mimica Touch temperature-sensitive labels. Alternatively, they can require an NFC reader (smartphone and dedicated app) to access the information, like in the case of INNPAPER printed electronics and GLOPACK RFID bio-sensors.  

GLOPACK RFID Tag 

 

Sustainable and recyclable labels 

As both traditional and smart labels need not only to enable circularity but also to be sustainable themselves, more and more packaging and labelling solutions try to make use of recycled and recyclable materials. Examples are the 100% compostable packaging compatible with compostable labels by Nature Fresh, and Mimica Touch caps and tags matching the material of the package for easy sorting.  

With regard to RFID tags, newer generations using printable electronics are more sustainable than traditional ones (8), as they can offer biodegradable or recyclable solutions and, especially if combined with addictive manufacturing techniques, help reduce e-waste (22). Examples are INNPAPER paper-based smart label and T-Sense Cold indicators. 

 

MATURITY:  

 

Ready for commercialisation/available on the market 

  • Databases, QR codes, barcodes, RFIDs, and watermarks for a more efficient and effective tracking of materials, reuse and recycling (15), and provision of information about products along the value-chain and to final users [e.g. TagItSmart, On Track]. 

  • Indicators for food freshness, such as Mimica Touch and IFLFSCTM.  

 

Development/demonstration stage 

  • Blockchain solutions for information on disassembly/reparability such as CirculariseSource. These technologies aim to share information for consumers and actors throughout the value chain while protecting companies IP and confidential information.  

  • New generations of RFID tags, like GLOPACK wireless food spoilage indicator, and printed electronics for smart labelling, such as INNPAPER.  

  • New thermochromic inks for smart labelling of food, such as T-Sense Cold

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JRC

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Circular economy
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