Beverage giants to help scale up world’s first enzyme-based plastics recycling technology

The beverage firms have joined L'Oreal in pledging to support bringing Carbios' technology to scale

Developed by French green chemistry firm Carbios, the method involves applying a liquid mixture of enzymes to used PET plastics and polyester fibres. Through a reaction similar to digestion, the enzymes break the polymers down into monomers – single-element particles which are then sent through a filtration and purification system.

The resulting materials are of “equivalent quality” to virgin PET, according to Carbios, making them ready for reuse in new plastic packaging such as drinks bottles. Carbios claims that the approach can be used for all forms of PET – regardless of colour, opacity or the number of plastic layers in the product – and that it requires “limited” heat and no pressure or solvents to complete.

Carbios had previously partnered with health and beauty firm L’Oreal to launch a business consortium aimed at bringing the recycling process to market on an industrial scale. This week, it announced that PepsiCo, Nestle Waters and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe have joined the consortium for a four-year term, committing them to support the market for enzymatically recycled PET.

“Addressing the global issue of plastic waste requires large scale collaboration, innovative thinking and investment in new and ground-breaking technologies,” Suntory Beverage & Food Europe’s chief research and development officer Roberto Vanin said.

“We are delighted to partner with Carbios to drive real action to tackle plastic waste. Their innovative approach to enzymatic recycling reflects our desire to actively seek out forward-thinking solutions to solve the challenges of today and ensure a sustainable future.”

Plastics pledges

The move comes as all of the participating businesses are striving to meet their WRAP UK Plastic Pact pledge to ensure that 100% of their plastic packaging portfolios are recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

In addition to this commitment, some of the businesses are working to increase the proportion of recycled plastic content they include in their packaging, with L’Oreal targeting 50% recycled or bio-based content; PepsiCo striving for 25% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content and LRS aiming for a 30% recycled content average, all by 2025.

Nestle, meanwhile, has not yet set a numerical target for recycled plastic content and has instead been focusing on plastic-free packaging in recent months. New designs will include paper-based pouches for Nesquik, Smarties and Milo, as well as paper straws for beverages which previously came with plastic versions. Water bottles which are both biodegradable and recyclable are also in the pipeline, but Nestlé has not yet set a deadline for bringing this innovation to market.

LRS has also made significant moves in the plastic-free space in the past year. After successfully trialling edible and biodegradable seaweed-based sachets at smaller-scale sporting events last summer, the company this week handed out more than 30,000 of the innovative packages, called Ooho, at the London Marathon.

The company’s head of sustainability and external affairs Michelle Norman recently told edie that distribution of Oohos is likely to have changed the way consumers consume and dispose of plastic packaging outside of the event, as they serve to “challenge” the way consumers think about single-use plastic items.

Lucozade Ribena Suntory at edie Live 

Lucozade Ribena Suntory’s head of sustainability and external affairs Michelle Norman will be appearing on the circular economy theatre at edie Live next month (21-22 May 2019), as part of a panel discussion on how customer engagement can help spur circular economy progress. Taking place at 2.15pm on Day One of the event, the debate will see Norman joined by experts from Hubbub, Mothercare and Ball Corporation, who will explore how best to make closed-loop systems accessible and attractive to the general public. 

The session is just one of many taking place across four theatres during the two-day show, which is edie’s biggest of the year and a highlight in the calendar for sustainability, energy and environment professionals. Under the theme of “turning ambition into ACTION”, we will be bringing attendees the inspiration and solutions needed to achieve a low-carbon, resource efficient and profitable future for their organisation.

Register for your free edie Live 2019 pass here.

Sarah George

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