The supreme discipline of this megatrend of reuse, however, are single-variety recycling processes without downcycling effects. For example, when PET bottles are turned back into PET bottles in a closed cycle, when carrier films made of polyester are used again as carrier films after recycling - or when it is possible to reduce the indispensable fresh fiber supply in paper recycling to the limits of what is technically feasible. There is also the possibility of making machines and plants usable for far longer than before by using the highest-quality materials on wear surfaces and through proactive maintenance. This presupposes new business models in which the suppliers of print & packaging technologies sell the machines and systems instead of their use and charge for them in pay-per-use models.
Whether closed material loops or pay-per-use operator models of almost eternally running machines: The necessary keys to implementing the Circular Economy are provided by another megatrend: digitization. Material cycles require transparency throughout the entire product life cycles. Material development, users and recycling providers need precise information on how the specific product or packaging is produced and used, what potentially toxic substances it comes into contact with in the process chain up to disposal, and what processes take place in recycling. The challenge is illustrated by the example of film used for sprayed cut flowers, which is contaminated in the process. If it enters the same material stream as plastic vegetable packaging, it is difficult to understand why the recycled film contains traces of pesticides after recycling. A Circular Economy requires transparency here, just as it does in the case of pay-per-use of virtually trouble-free machines. Fully networked machines with close-meshed, possibly AI-supported condition monitoring are the prerequisite for such business models to actually become practicable and worthwhile for all stakeholders - including the long overlooked environment.