Unilever Trials a New Method of Recycling PET plastic

The global consumer goods giant Unilever is trialling a new method of recycling PET plastic with the eventual aim of recycling all waste PET back into plastic that can be made into food packaging.

PET is one of the plastics that is used most often in packaging, especially in drinks bottles, because it’s strong, lightweight, and it can withstand high temperatures. It’s also one of the most widely recycled plastics, with 1.9 million tonnes being recycled in Europe in 2016.

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But Unilever has claimed that only 20% of the PET bottles sold worldwide end up being recycled. This is a problem in the making since demand for PET and recycled PET is increasing every year. New recycling techniques for PET are very much needed.

The usual recycling techniques for PET involve shredding and melting the plastic down and the result is a low-grade product that is not suitable for food packaging.

Unilever has teamed up with Indorama Ventures, the world’s biggest producer of PET resin, and a Dutch start-up called Ioniqa, which has developed a new recycling technique for PET bottles which aims to produce a higher quality end product.

The new technique has been piloted but is yet to be trialled on an industrial scale. It involves taking non-recycled PET and breaking it down to separate the colour and other contaminants. It can then be processed back into PET that is suitable for food packaging.

The technique is set to be tested at one of Indorama’s facilities. Unilever say that the development of the new technique could bring about an important change in the plastics industry. It might eliminate the problem of some types of recycled PET being unsuitable for food packaging.

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If the trial is a success, it could transform the plastics recycling industry because the technique can be used again and again to recycle PET. In order for recycling to be successful however, the collection rate of PET, especially bottles needs to be improved to meet with the growing demand.