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Regional Competence Center for Occupational Research KARE Launches Competence Development for the Plastics Recycling Economy

A major joint project involving ten companies from the plastics industry, an association and five partners from research and development began in October. The aim is to establish a regional competence center for vocational research in the field of plastics recycling. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project with around 9.8 million euros.

November 22, 2023
Gruppenfoto KARE

KARE partners kick off the five-year development phase (Photo: Luca Hoffmannbeck, SKZ)

16 companies and research institutions from the Greater Franconia region involved - 9.8 million euros in funding from the federal government

The transformation to a resource and environmentally friendly circular economy for plastics is urgently needed. In addition to the EU Green Deal and the EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy, initiatives, measures and regulations have also been launched in Germany that call for significantly improved recycling of plastics and resource conservation. Companies in the plastics value chain are therefore called upon to play an active role in shaping these transformation processes. In particular, the new requirements call for new concepts for work processes and environments, which must be supported by employees. Sustainable solutions in the form of participative work design must focus on people and the environment. The Bavarian region of Franconia around Würzburg and the neighboring states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg are particularly well suited to initiate and drive this change. This is because the region is home to around 240 mostly medium-sized companies in the plastics industry - for example, in the automotive, medical and construction sectors.

The goal is to successfully design a holistic circular economy. 
With KARE, an association of companies, research and educational institutions is now creating a competence center for occupational research on the recycling of plastics, which is intended to have a far-reaching impact on operational practice and society. Five research institutions, ten companies and one association as well as ten associated companies, network and social partners are developing ergonomic concepts, methods and technical instruments for sustainable and healthy work design under the leadership of the SKZ Plastics Center. All participating research institutions have proven expertise in the fields of plastics and recycling management, logistics, in-company training and further education, human resources and organizational competence as well as in the development of tailor-made digital tools for efficient and sustainable processes and workflows. The SMEs and companies involved in the consortium address the entire circular economy, from waste recycling and processing to material sourcing, material specification, production of B2B components for end applications and consumer products.

Best practice solutions for SMEs
In six lighthouse projects, the association is testing concrete solutions and application scenarios for the circular economy for important problems faced by companies. The areas of design for sustainability, digital monitoring solutions for sustainability and the circular economy, waste management, prevention of pellet losses, in-house recycling and the use of recyclates are all given equal consideration. To this end, technical and economic analyses are performed and new approaches for resource-efficient and environmentally friendly working environments are developed, also with the support of digital tools. The results will be made available in the form of transformation concepts and qualification offers for companies, technical colleges and universities as well as for supraregional transfer to economy, society and politics.

"Starting where the circular economy needs to work"
The network coordinator at SKZ, Dr. Hermann Achenbach, Head of Sustainability and Circular Economy, explains why practical solutions for the circular economy in and with companies are so important: "In purely technical terms, there are many things that can be implemented to achieve a more circular economy. However, there are often individual reasons at the local level that prevent companies from implementing these solutions. I am glad that we are starting with so many committed partners in practice to tackle exactly where the circular economy needs to work." And very importantly: "Above all, we must see people as the most important element in the transformation to a more sustainable economy," says Achenbach.

Five-year support phase
The necessary internal transformation processes should lead to a circular economy in practice - particularly with regard to aspects of sustainable, healthy and digital work design in all areas of the company. At the end of the five-year funding phase, the regional competence center for work research KARE is to be established and consolidated. The project will run until 2028.

About the project:
The Competence Center for Work Research KARE "Building Competencies for the Circular Economy of Plastics" was launched on October 1, 2023. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the regional competence center for work research under the funding code FKZ 02L22C200 in the program "Future of Value Added - Research on Production, Services and Work" until September 30, 2028. KARE is managed by the Project Management Agency Karlsruhe (PTKA). KARE consists of five research institutes, ten application companies, one association and ten associated partners (companies, social and network partners). The participating research institutes include the Plastics Center SKZ as project coordinator, the Forschungsinstitut Betriebliche Bildung (f-bb) gemeinnützige GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC, the Chair of Business Administration and Information Systems at the Julius-Maximilian University of Würzburg, and the Würzburg-Schweinfurt University of Applied Sciences (THWS) with the Institute for Applied Logistics and the Technology Transfer Center Hassfurt.

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