FMCG giants unveil world's first plastic bottles recycled using enzymes
L'Oreal, Nestle Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe have unveiled plastic bottles made entirely from post-consumer waste recycled using enzymatic processes, in what they describe as a world first.
The big-name brands have been working with biotech and recycling innovation firm Carbios to develop the recycling process for several years behind the scenes and have unveiled sample bottles this week.
Carbios’ recycling method involves altering an enzyme naturally found in compost heaps to ensure that it can break down different kinds of polymers – chiefly PET – into monomers. These monomers can then be used to create new plastics. The company claims that its system is appropriate for PET of all colours and complexities and can break down 97% of plastics in 16 hours or less.
After some ten years’ of R&D to improve processing times and ensure that the resulting material is virgin quality and ready for application in new packaging, Carbios is set to launch a demonstration plant this September. An industrial facility will then be launched by 2025, producing 40,000 tonnes of recycled plastic for use in the private sector annually.
The end-user businesses to have developed sample bottles have done so under the following brands:
- Perrier for Nestle Waters
- Orangina for Suntory Beverage & Food Europe
- Pepsi Max for PepsiCo
- Biotherm for L’Oreal
“The global issue of plastic waste requires transformational thinking, creative partnerships and innovative brands coming together to seek out new solutions,” Suntory Food & Beverage Europe’s chief R&D officer Roberto Vanin said.
“Continued investment in new ways of tackling waste and creating true circularity such as this ground-breaking technology from Carbios will be key to Suntory Beverage & Food Europe achieving its 100% sustainable plastic ambition.”
Vanin is referring to the business’s commitment to full recyclability, high recycling rates and eliminating virgin fossil materials wherever possible by 2030.
As well as helping big-name brands meet their own targets on decreasing virgin plastic use and increasing recycled content, Carbios believes its technology could help to solve one of the major issues with creating a circular economy for plastics – the fact that most plastics can only be recycled a finite amount of times before their quality degrades to the point that they are unsuitable for most commercial uses. According to National Geographic, the average number of times plastics can be mechanically recycled without significant degradation is two or three.
Brick by brick
In related news, toy giant the Lego Group has this week unveiled its first prototype bricks made using recycled PET from used bottles.
The business stated that it has tested more than 250 variations of recycled PET and other plastics over the past three years to develop the prototype. Challenges have included durability, safety, and ‘clutch power’ – the ability of the bricks to stack together and stay connected.
Lego Group expects the bricks from recycled PET to be available to customers in around two years’ time. The next step in the project is a second phase of testing, expected to take at least a year. A pilot production phase will then commence.
“We are super excited about this breakthrough,” Lego Group’s vice-president for environmental sustainability Tim Brooks said.
“The biggest challenge on our sustainability journey is rethinking and innovating new materials that are as durable, strong and high quality as our existing bricks – and fit with Lego elements made over the past 60 years. With this prototype, we’re able to showcase the progress we’re making.”
Lego had previously launched pieces made from plant-based plastic but it yet to announce plans for scaling this approach further. At present, bio-plastic accounts for 2% of Lego products.
Last summer, Lego joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a three-year period, in a bid to accelerate and broaden its actions to create a circular economy for products in packaging. Since then, the business has unveiled a three-year, $400m investment package, of which significant portions will be allocated to plastic-free packaging, recycled content and brick reuse.