Nestlé backs P&G's closed-loop solution for plastics

Food and beverage giant Nestlé has partnered with the developer of Procter & Gamble's (P&G) plastics innovation concept, in a bid to bring an emerging technology which restores recycled plastic streams to 'near-virgin' quality to market.

Post-consumer plastic recycled using traditional methods (left) and using PureCycle's process (right)

Post-consumer plastic recycled using traditional methods (left) and using PureCycle's process (right)

Developed by US-based recycling innovation firm PureCycle, the technology applies chemical additives to contaminated or coloured polypropylene plastic waste, separating coloured dyes, odours, dirt and food and drink waste from the plastic itself using a contained reaction process.

This enables the plastic to be more easily incorporated in new products and packaging, as it is of higher quality and value. At present, issues of contamination, colour detection and low quality or value mean that just 1% of all polypropylene plastic produced in the US is recycled.

The new recycling method has been developed and licensed by P&G, as part of the firm’s ambition to double the quantity of recycled material it uses in its packaging lines by 2020, against a 2016 baseline. It is set to be used at an industrial scale for the first time in 2020, when PureCycle is due to open a new recycling plant in Ohio.

P&G will be the plant’s main customer, with Nestlé confirming this week that it will also source recycled content streams from the facility. Given that the firm is the world’s largest within the food and drink sector, this partnership will likely enable the technology to be scaled up more rapidly.

“This technology has the capacity to revolutionise the plastics recycling industry by enabling P&G and companies around the world to tap into sources of recycled plastics that deliver nearly identical performance and properties as virgin materials in a broad range of applications,” P&G’s chief research, development and innovation officer Kathy Fish said.

“Our approach to innovation not only includes our own products and packaging, but technologies that allow us and others to have a positive impact on our environment.”

Since it began exploring the recycling technology in 2015, P&G has launched a range of Fairy washing up liquid bottles made with 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic. It has also increased the amount of recycled plastic content in its Head & Shoulders bottles to 25%, with this resource stream being sourced from polluted beaches.

Plastic progress

The move from Nestlé comes as the company is striving to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, as part of WRAP’s UK Plastics Pact.

Its other plastic targets include an ongoing aim of ensuring that none of its packaging is littered – a target which has seen the firm commit to play an “active role” in the development of recycling schemes, infrastructure and emerging innovations across the country where it operates.

As it strives to realise these ambitions, Nestlé confirmed in January that it will launch its first plastic-free packaging lines by the end of 2019. 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.

Elsewhere, the multinational is also involved in Project STOP, a business-led initiative aiming to prevent plastic pollution from leaking into waterways and oceans across South-East Asia, and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, which works to tackle the 640,000 tonnes of plastic fishing gear abandoned in the world's oceans each year.

Sarah George


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