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The Future is Recycled Material – Joshua Okojie, on our certification for products made from recycled material

Manufacturers and major brands with stakeholders across the whole supply chain are under great pressure to sustainably re-design their plastic products – encourage the use of recycled content in their plastic products to mitigate climate crisis, reduce plastic litter, and foster a circular economy, by closing the loop. The already laid down policies and regulations of the authorities are more defined and uncompromising in recent years, for example with the Single-Use Plastic Directive, and the EU considering a mandatory recycled content quota for plastic products.

Consumers play an active role in driving this development, by demanding for increasing value on sustainable packaging. Studies show that eco-conscious consumers prefer brands that show-case their commitment to sustainability by using a higher amount of recycled content in their products.

But, what is a credible conformity mark if the large mass of test marks already confuses customers? In this interview, DIN CERTCO expert and auditor Joshua Okojie answers this question. The recycling industry has improved over the years, better technical innovations are expected, and highly welcomed. Adapted legislations are to be expected over the next few years. Joshua is convinced that the future of plastic products is recycled material.

Companies will become self-innovative. If a brand declares sustainability as a core value, it will become one of the driver of the whole development.

Joshua Okojie

Mr. Okojie, if plastic packaging is to be used, please make it from recycled material. The position of consumers is very clear on this. Will big brands follow the trend or neglect it?

Neglecting such innovation would be a mistake. Even the biggest brands welcome this development, because those who do not adapt to sustainable production, a circular economy and encourages sustainable consumption might fall behind in the competition, which is a risk I doubt brands are willing to take. To mention a few drivers for this development, we have strong demands from eco–conscious end-consumers, mandatory policies, and the recognition of sustainability as a competitive edge.

We are very pleased about this, because we know that the companies are a powerful vehicle in transitioning to a circular economy. Therefore, a company that defines sustainability as the core in its business model, will focus on innovative sustainable solutions.

Brands can and should foster transparency across their supply chain, encouraging best practices from the end-tier supplier to themselves.

What do you think are the biggest hurdles along the way?

We see very positive developments and companies are agile-continuously improving their products. However, to mention a few, "greenwashing" - That´s when companies present themselves or their products as greener or more sustainable than they actually are. This could be for media attention.

In view of recycled content in plastic products, a packaging could be advertised as a product containing recycled material, which is fine. However, such packaging may have just 10% recycled content, and this shouldn’t be compared with a packaging containing 95% recycled content. And that’s where DIN CERTCO comes in: our certification provides full transparency and clarity on this to the consumer, therefore, tackling “greenwashing”.

How can we prevent green washing? Through stricter legislation?

Interesting question! A good example would be the incoming development by the EU, where PET bottles should have a minimum of 25% recycled content by 2025, which is quite impressive, and hopefully the recycled content quota would increase over the years. Such policies would help police greenwashing accordingly. I strongly believe that products made from 100 percent recycled material will become the norm on our supermarket shelves. The only question is when and how do we get there?

How will we get there? How will the market develop?

Legislation is certainly a driver for this development. The EU's Single-Use Plastic Directive (SUPD) has already imposed some product restrictions on the industry, like a separate collection system – which in turn improves the quality of the recycled content or the mentioned target for PET bottles.

Focusing on mechanical recycling and it´s technical capabilities today, the quality of the recyclates drops over the recycling life span of the material. Thus, encouraging the mix with some virgin material to achieve desired qualities or mechanical properties. However, a complementary approach with chemical recycling is a possible solution to reach desired virgin-like properties. Although, there’s still the debate around chemical recycling, considering the costs amongst other topics of discussion. Another approach, would be of course, innovative breakthroughs in the mechanical recycling eco system. Here, we also expect an interplay between legislation and technical development. So basically, a hand-in-hand approach between both spaces.

With regard standardization, we have high expectations for the DIN SPEC 91446. This standard should eventually provide a uniform approach for the classification of plastic waste and recyclates based on the available data and corresponding labeling, a possible data quality label solution.

The last pillar of sustainability is economy. The price also plays a role in the use of recycled materials. The instability of crude oil prices influences the production costs of conventional plastic material. In light of all these points, possible subsidies on the part of recycled material used in plastic products should be favored to encourage a shift towards the use of recylates in packaging.

To wind up, having reached the point where unlimited recycling is achieved without compromising quality, we can evade the question “do we have enough global waste to possibly do away with conventional plastic”.

Apparently, there is still a long way to go until then, although I am pretty optimistic for the future. Living in the present, we should expect dynamic changes in legislations, which should be embraced by brands, retailers and manufacturers – basically, all stakeholders across the supply chain.

Joshua Okojie is a product manager and an auditor at DIN CERTCO, a certification body owned-subsidiary of TÜV Rheinland. He is a sustainability expert, and a circular economy enthusiast, with magnified interest cut across the three pillars of corporate sustainability.

As an auditor, you are very familiar with the challenges that manufacturers are facing today. What is the most relevant?

Basically, the drive behind this audit, is to verify and validate standardization to ensure consistency in the product. A challenge, would be having a valid qualified quality management system to ensure traceability across the supply chain and maintain consistent product quality. With our certification “products made from recycled material” developed on the standards:

DIN EN ISO 14021 - Environmental labels and declarations, and DIN EN 15343 Recycled Plastics – Plastics recycling traceability and assessment of conformity and recycled content, we can verify full transparency, and the exact amount of recycled content in the product, amongst other pros.

Can you tell us more about the certification? How does it work?

Basically, we execute a chain-of-custody audit system, where the certification “Products made from recycled materials” is based on the requirements of the international standard DIN EN ISO 14021 and the European DIN EN 15343. Subsequently, complemented with other standards needed for the characterization of individual material types. I would encourage brands, retailers, manufacturers, and recyclers to have a look at our website to further familiarize themselves with the certification.

In this certification eco system of “products made from recycled materials”, we offer two independent conformity marks, namely: DIN Geprüft “Products made from recycled materials” and the “flustix RECYCLED – DIN-Geprüft” conformity marks. Both marks can be acquired independently or you have the option to use both, as per the client’s request.

In addition to documents check, the certification also includes an on-site audit at the production sites. Furthermore, our certification has a timeline of 4 – 8 weeks, possibly less. However, this depends on the quality of communication across the supply chain post-application, and the number of chains in the supply chain.

After the successful completion, the certification is valid for 5 years, with an annual surveillance, to ensure consistency of the product.

There are already many certifications for recycled material that are intended to provide orientation for consumers. What makes the "flustix RECYCLED – DIN-Geprüft” mark unique?

First of all, DIN CERTCO pioneered, and expanded the expertise with flustix system within the certification eco system. Secondly and most importantly, concerning these conformity marks, we communicate precisely, the traceable source of recycled material in the product. For example, if it’s a post-consumer recyclate or a pre-consumer recyclate, and in parallel, we verify and indicate the exact percentage of recycled material in the product. Explicitly, with this approach, the plague “greenwashing” is tackled, and consumer education, marketing claims, and transparency across the value chain, are also prioritized.

Altogether, our certification also considers the safety and environmental impact of recycled materials, such as REACH compliance and the likes.

What is relevant about different types of waste?

Not necessarily waste, but recovered material. The quality of the recovered material plays a role in mechanical recycling with regard the quality of the recyclate, the cleaner or more efficient sorting, the better the quality of the recyclate. In contrast to chemical recycling, where pre-sorting is not necessary as the recovered material is broken down to its building block.

We also distinguish between post-consumer recyclates, and post-industrial recyclates with respect to the input material – for post-industrial recovered material, we have a better basic material in comparison to post-consumer recyclates without additional processing. We have a larger market share for post-consumer recyclate, possibilities are due to the pre-years favoring of post-consumer recyclates in plastic products, as there was the debate, if post-industrial recyclate could be considered as a recycled material.

Can you explain this in more detail?

It is very good to know the source of your recovered material, to elude the risk of harmful substances in your product. With respect to post-consumer waste, unfortunately, we don't always know the source of the waste – how was this collected? Therefore, we risk a possible cross-migration of harmful contaminants prior or during collection, therefore, the need for extensive sorting technologies, and compliance to safety regulations like REACH. The regulation is restricting substances of very high concern in plastic products.

Additionally, we have the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) that regulates the use of recyclates for food contact materials.

Who is actually DIN CERTCO? When it comes to certifications, awareness of the certification plays a major role in convincing consumers.

DIN CERTCO is a globally recognized Certification Body, and 100% owned subsidiary of the TÜV Rheinland Group. Over the years, we have built up a very solid reputation, both global and local. This year, by the way, the company celebrates its 50th anniversary. Regardless of our vast years of experience, we always strive to improve our services, especially in the field of sustainability and circular economy. We are very committed and supportive of companies in the transitioning to a circular economy. We rank, confidently, amongst the top-tier in the certification market of recycled materials. Our certification global footprint speaks for itself.

Interesting for you, we are the certification body for issuing the DIN mark and the DIN Geprüft – flustix “products made from recycled materials” conformity mark, which is recognized and recommended by the EU Commission, the German Federal Environmental Agency, the German Consumer Initiative Association and the "Siegeklkarheit.de" portal of the German Federal Government. We are very proud of this.

And why is DIN CERTCO working with flustix? What is the partnership about?

Simply put: we believe in the power of collaboration, and not competition. We have a larger network and wider outreach when we all work together. I believe, you agree with me, if I say that we only have planet Earth.

Of course, we stand for many good qualities like confidence, competence and credibility. In parallel, we always go for the best – and therefore, we believe that we can achieve a wider outreach with a strong partner like flustix. Flustix has a large network in the industry itself, and supports our goal to foster a circular economy.

With so many test marks on the market. Why should manufacturers choose to work with DIN CERTCO?

We are DIN CERTCO! To mention a few, with us on your team, you are confident that your brand or company would always be up-to date concerning dynamic changes in legislation over the next few years, as this is part of our core service.

Our customers are sure to avoid penalties like the UK packaging tax, with our certifications, and also, the flexibility of our sustainable services is suitable to support sustainable product innovations or designs. Furthermore, brands can confidently communicate their sustainability commitments, appeal to eco-conscious consumers, and have access to a wider audience.

Ultimately, with our sustainable certifications, stakeholders drive and contribute to the UN sustainable development goals, an example would be the DIN Geprüft “industrial compostable” certification, where we positively impact the goal number 12 – Responsible consumption and production, amongst others. And likewise, with our DIN Geprüft “products made from recycled material”, we encourage green purchasing.

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We are happy to answer your questions

We are happy to answer your questions

DIN CERTCO Gesellschaft für Konformitätsbewertung mbH is a recognized expert in plastic recyclates.