Get into the loop - How plastics are becoming more circular

Interview with the head of the Fraunhofer CCPE, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Renner

In conversation about the R-strategies of the circular economy and the establishment of the circular economy with Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Renner. Furthermore, he also tells about his function as head of the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Circular Plastics Economy CCPE and announces the next Fraunhofer CCPE compact on May 4, 2023 with the topic "Recyclates in Primary Material Quality - Status and Perspectives of Advanced Recycling".

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Renner
© Fraunhofer UMSICHT/Mike Henning
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Renner

You have been the new head of the Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence Circular Plastics Economy since August 2022. What makes Fraunhofer CCPE special for you?

Behind Fraunhofer CCPE are the scientists from six Fraunhofer Institutes with their know-how and a unique plant and analytical infrastructure on a wide range of research topics within the Circular Economy. The focus is on material selection and development, the use phase of products including individual business model innovations up to recycling. Evidence is created by the convincing and transparent evaluation of products and processes through the application of established methods such as life cycle assessment. 

At the moment, everyone is talking about the Circular Economy, but not everything can be 100% recycled and reused. What role do the so-called R-strategies play in this?

In order to implement the goals of a Circular Economy, companies' business models in particular must be adapted or realigned. The R-strategies are a very good orientation with regard to the range of possibilities for change. The best-known three R-strategies are Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But there are other R-strategies in the circular economy, for example Refuse, Rethink, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose and Recover. For example, sometimes it is enough to give a product a different look (Refurbish) or to use parts of the previous product for a different function (Repurpose) in order to operate more sustainably. Intensive use of products via product service systems is an extremely exciting approach to slowing down resource demand - for example, do I need to own one or two drills if I want to drill an average of 3 holes in a wall per year, or could a high-quality, durable drill be delivered in a straightforward manner and used by 8 households per day?!

R-strategies sounds complicated. Do you have an example of how to apply these R-strategies?

A good support for the choice of the R-strategy is the System Mapping developed by CCPE. After a short analysis of the existing product, the R-strategies are analyzed for a scenario, for example saving CO2 or primary raw materials. The simulation results show which ecological and economic short- and long-term effects can be expected from a changed product design and the appropriate innovation path can be derived.

What exactly do you think is needed for the Circular Economy to pick up speed across the board in the plastics industry?

This requires different product designs, keyword eco-design, materials and their combination, technologies, but also incentives. And it won't be possible without regulation. But it will be crucial for the players in the value chain to work together - across individual directly connected stages. Only then will it be possible to bend linear value creation and ultimately transform it into a value creation cycle. The projects at Fraunhofer CCPE take this multistakeholder approach into account. By combining system know-how and technologies, solutions for small and large cycles are created.

What are you looking forward to with regard to the work in the CCPE cluster in the coming weeks?

Our next highlight is our two-hour online event "Fraunhofer CCPE compact" on May 4, 2023, with the topic "Recyclates in primary material quality -State and perspectives of advanced recycling". A controversial topic today and one that will become increasingly important in the future! My point of view in short words: the category " both/and" will be more important in our future than an "either-or" to solve the huge tasks ahead of us! It is about clever combination of slowing, narrowing, closing using all R-strategies with the aim to find the best task-based solutions in all three dimensions of sustainability: social, economic and ecological!