Unilever Develops New Technology To Recycle Plastic Sachet Waste

Unilever has unveiled its ground-breaking new technology to recycle sachet waste. This technology, called CreaSolv® Process, has been developed with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany and is inspired by an innovation used to recycle TV sets.

Billions of single-use sachets are sold every year, particularly in developing and emerging markets. Sachets are extremely resource efficient and allow low-income consumers to buy small amounts of products that would otherwise be unaffordable to them. But without a viable recycling solution, sachet packaging ends up in landfill or as litter.

CreaSolv® Process technology has been adapted from a method used to separate brominated flame retardants from waste electrical and electronic equipment polymers. During the process, the plastic is recovered from the sachet, and the plastic then used to create new sachets for Unilever products – creating a full circular economy approach, Unilever says.

“We believe that our commitment to making 100% of our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable will support the long-term growth of our business.”

Commenting, David Blanchard, Chief R&D Officer said: “Billions of sachets are used once and just thrown away, all over the world, ending up in landfill or in our waterways and oceans. At the start of this year we made a commitment to help solve this problem, developing new recycling technologies.

“We intend to make this tech open source and would hope to scale the technology with industry partners, so others – including our competitors – can use it.

“There is a clear economic case for delivering this. We know that globally $80-120bn is lost to the economy through failing to properly recycle plastics each year. Finding a solution represents a huge opportunity.

“We believe that our commitment to making 100% of our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable will support the long-term growth of our business.”

Sustainable System Change

Unilever will open a pilot plant in Indonesia later this year to test the long-term commercial viability of the technology. Indonesia, is a critical country in which to tackle waste, producing 64m tonnes every year, with 1.3m tonnes ending up in the ocean.

To tackle the industry-wide sachet waste issue, Unilever is looking to create a “sustainable system change” by setting up waste collection schemes to channel the sachets to be recycled.

Currently Unilever is testing this by working with local waste banks, governments and retailers and will look to empower waste pickers, integrate them into the mainstream economy and to provide a potential long term income, generating wider growth in the economy.

“Our aim is to prove the economic profitability and environmental benefits of the CreaSolv® Process. Our calculations indicate that we are able to recover six kilos of pure polymers with the same energy effort as the production of one kilo of virgin polymer.”

This announcement is part of Unilever’s pledge to ensure all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Unilever had already committed to reducing the weight of its packaging by one-third by 2020 and increasing the use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025.

Dr Andreas Mäurer, Department Head of Plastic Recycling at the Fraunhofer IVV said: “With this innovative pilot plant we can, for the first time ever, recycle high-value polymers from dirty, post-consumer, multi-layer sachets.

“Our aim is to prove the economic profitability and environmental benefits of the CreaSolv® Process. Our calculations indicate that we are able to recover six kilos of pure polymers with the same energy effort as the production of one kilo of virgin polymer.”

While this new technology represents a major step forward, plastic waste is a multi-faceted challenge that will require continued innovation in technology, design, delivery models and materials to create a full circular economy for plastics.

Unilever says it will continue its work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative and continue looking for additional solutions.

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