Unilever push forward with plastic recycling technology

Consumer goods giant Unilever has announced a partnership with start-up company Ioniqa which it hopes could deliver recycling of PET waste into virgin grade material for use in food packaging.

PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is widely used to produce plastic packaging, yet worldwide only around 20% of this material makes its way to recycling plants with the rest either incinerated, disposed of in landfills or leaking into the natural environment.

Unilever has partnered with Indorama Ventures & start-up company Ioniqa, a spin-off from the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, to try and tackle the challenge.

The technology takes non-recycled PET waste, such as coloured bottles, and breaks them down to their base molecular level, while separating the colour and other contaminants.

The molecules are converted back into PET which is equal to virgin grade quality.

If the technology is proven to be successful on an industrial scale, Unilever says 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 be transformative since the new technology can be repeated indefinitely.

The technology has successfully passed its pilot stage and is now moving towards testing at a larger scale.

David Blanchard said: ‘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.’

Aloke Lohia, Group CEO of Indorama Ventures added: ‘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.’

Tonnis Hooghoudt, Founder and CEO of Ioniqa said: ‘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.’

Thomas Barrett

Thomas Barrett

Journalist. Follow him on Twitter

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