Unilever developing new technology to reuse plastics
Unilever, the company behind some of the world’s best-known consumer brands, is working on pioneering new technology to convert hard-to-recycle plastic back into high-quality packaging.
The use of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is widespread in the packaging industry, especially among bottles, but only 20 percent is currently recycled.
The British-Dutch company, which is responsible for over 400 brands worldwide, including Ben & Jerry’s, Persil, Marmite, and PG Tips, has announced it is working with Indorama Ventures and Ioniqa, a technology start-up, on the issue.
The technology, developed by Ioniqa in Eindhoven, is able to convert PET waste, including coloured bottles, into transparent “virgin grade material”, according to Unilever. It does this by breaking the material down to its base molecule level and separating out the contaminants before converting it back into the original polymer, bringing it full circle. This means the material can be used again as packaging, and avoids incineration and landfill.
The technology has recently passed a pilot stage and is now moving on to testing on an industrial scale. Unilever’s work on the issue forms part of its pledge last year to ensure 100 percent of its packaging is recyclable by 2025.
Its Chief R&D Officer David Blanchard said the technology could be transformational across the industry: “We want all of our packaging to be fit for a world that is circular by design, stepping away from the take-make-dispose model that we currently live in. This innovation is particularly exciting because it could unlock one of the major barriers today – making all forms of recycled PET suitable for food packaging. Indeed, making the PET stream fully circular would be a major milestone towards this ambition, not just helping Unilever, but transforming industry at large.”
Tonnis Hooghoudt, Founder and CEO of Ioniqa stated that: “through our collaboration, Ioniqa’s innovative technology can turn PET waste into a truly circular material which holds value after disposal by consumers, helping to clean up the planet.”