Unilever has announced a partnership with start-up company Ioniqa and the largest global producer of PET resin Indorama Ventures to pioneer a new technology that converts PET waste back into virgin grade material for use in food packaging.
Ioniqa has developed a proprietary technology that is able to convert any PET waste — including coloured packs — back into transparent virgin grade material. The technology has successfully passed its pilot stage and is now moving toward testing at an industrial scale.
PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is widely used to produce plastic packaging, yet worldwide only around 20 percent of this material makes its way to recycling plants with the rest either incinerated, disposed of in landfills or leaking into the natural environment.
Through its R&D Foods team, Unilever has partnered with Indorama Ventures & start-up company Ioniqa, a spin-off from the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, to tackle this challenge.
Ioniqa’s new technology takes non-recycled PET waste — like coloured bottles — and breaks it down to base molecule level, while separating the colour and other contaminants. The molecules are converted back into PET, which is equal to virgin grade quality at Indorama’s facility.
If proven successful at industrial scale, in the future it will be possible to convert all PET back into high quality, food-grade packaging. The three partnering companies believe that this fully circular solution could lead to an industry transformation, since the new technology can be repeated indefinitely.
In 2017, Unilever committed to all of its plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Chief R&D Officer David Blanchard says Unilever is proud to support another sustainable packaging innovation.
“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,” Blanchard says. “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.”
For more information: www.unilever.nl