Unilever converts PET waste with new technology

Unilever companyGlobal giant Unilever has partnered with start-up company Ioniqa and PET resin producer Indorama Ventures to pioneer a new technology which converts PET waste back into virgin grade material for use in food packaging.

Unilever said in a statement it committed last year to all of its plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Chief R&D officer David Blanchard said that 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. 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,” Blanchard said.

Unilever said in a statement 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 towards testing at an industrial scale. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is widely used to produce plastic packaging, yet worldwide only around 20 per cent 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 and 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.

“We aspire to be a world-class chemical company making great products for society, and this partnership is fully aligned with our vision. Our approach is not limited to our own operations, but we take the entire supply chain into account, including what happens to our products after use. We therefore look forward to working closely with Unilever and Ioniqa to leverage this state-of-the-art technology that contributes to tackling the global issue of waste, and enables us to go beyond the role of a polymer manufacturer,” said Aloke Lohia, Group CEO of Indorama Ventures.

If proven successful at industrial scale, in 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.

“To scale up our unique solution for PET plastics, we are delighted to work together with partners like Unilever and Indorama Ventures. 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,” said Tonnis Hooghoudt, founder and CEO of Ioniqa.

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