Incom Recycle, the developer of China’s first “smart” plastic bottle collection machines, aims to triple its capacity to turn the used containers into new ones as part of the country’s expansion of the so-called circular economy.
The Beijing-based firm, a unit of Hong Kong-listed, state-backed property developer Sino-Ocean Group, owns a plant in Tianjin with an annual capacity to process 50,000 tonnes of used plastic drinking bottles. It cleans and shreds the material and turns it into polyester chips – the raw material for a variety of consumer goods.
“We plan to invest 1 to 1.5 billion yuan (US$150 million to US$220 million) in the next three to five years to triple the capacity to 150,000 tonnes, by building plants in southern and southwestern China,” Incom general manager Chang Tao told the Post.
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China, the biggest producer of plastic waste on the planet, is about to kick off a five-year plan to reduce and replace the pollutant. By the end of this year a ban will take effect on the production and sale of disposable foamed plastic tableware, straws and plastic cotton buds.
Non-biodegradable plastic bags will go in phases starting this year, expanding nationwide by 2025. Hotels must stop handing out free disposal plastic products, while couriers are instructed to stop using non-biodegradable plastic packaging by 2025.
Incom claims it is the only firm in mainland China capable of producing food-grade recycled polyester chips that can be used to make drink bottles, giving it a “fully circular” business model.
Its production process has been certified by the Ministry of Health and Quality Inspection Bureau, and met the requirements of the US Food and Drugs Administration, besides those of international beverage makers including Coca-Cola and Danone, it said.
In 2012, the company developed China’s first “smart” plastic drink bottles collection machines.
They are equipped with an imaging camera that can identify the size of the bottles and sort them into specific bins. A message is sent to the company’s main depot when they are full.
In 2015, Incom formed a joint venture with Norway’s Tomra Group to manufacture so-called “reverse vending machines” to collect and recycle plastic bottles in China and abroad.
In around 50 nations where bottle deposit schemes are implemented – usually prompted by so-called “extended producer responsibilities” legislation – consumers will get a refund from the drinks’ manufacturers after they return a bottle to the machines.
While such legislation does not exist in China, various local governments have proposed running pilot deposit schemes.
Such laws would shift the waste management costs associated with a consumer product throughout its life cycle from local governments to producers, prompting them to take environmental considerations into account when designing their products.
“Manufacturers’ deposit schemes, if implemented, would be the most cost-efficient system for China, when the comprehensive cost of resource utilisation to the whole society is considered,” Chang said. “The additional cost to drinks producers would also be the lowest.”
Incom has installed some 6,000 collection machines – mostly in Beijing – since 2012, enabling the recycling of over 57 million plastic bottles at its own processing facility.
To encourage consumers to use its machines, in the absence of a manufacturers’ deposit scheme, the company pays them 5 to 10 fen per bottle by crediting their mobile e-wallets.
Incom has also created a brand of lifestyle products made from its recycled polyester chips, catering to the young and environmentally-conscious.
Each T-shirt it sells requires the recycling of 13 plastic bottles, compared to 38 for a raincoat, seven for a handbag and 18 for a backpack.
More from South China Morning Post:
- China’s recycling revolution
- China’s recycling revolution 04: confronting the global plastic crisis
- Swire Coca-Cola quenches thirst for recycling with machines that will collect plastic bottles and put 20 HK cents on your Octopus as a reward
- China’s war on trash goes hi-tech with AI-driven apps for sorting and facial recognition to enforce recycling
This article Incom, Chinese pioneer of ‘smart’ plastic bottle collection machines, plans to triple recycling capacity as Beijing aims to stamp out the pollutant first appeared on South China Morning Post