Unilever breakthrough technology set to tackle plastic sachet waste

Consumer goods giant Unilever has today (11 May) unveiled a breakthrough technology which aims to address the systemic global issue of multilayer plastic sachet waste.

The long-term commercial viability of the technology will be tested by Unilever at a pilot plant in Indonesia, a country which produces 64 million tonnes of waste every year

The long-term commercial viability of the technology will be tested by Unilever at a pilot plant in Indonesia, a country which produces 64 million tonnes of waste every year

Generally made of a thin film of plastic and aluminium in a sandwich laminate form, sachet packaging allows low-income consumers, particularly in developing countries, to buy small amounts of otherwise unaffordable products.

But the increasing adoption of sachet products is leading to a problematic rise of landfill waste. In a bid to tackle the issue, Unilever has developed a technology which recovers plastics from the sachet which can then be used to create packaging for new products.

“There is a clear economic case for delivering this,” Unilever chief R&D officer David Blanchard said. “We know that globally $80-120bn is lost to the economy through failing to properly recycle plastics each year.  Finding a solution represents a huge opportunity.” 

Innovative solution

The CreaSolv® Process technology derives from a method used to separate brominated flame retardants from waste electrical and electronic equipment polymers. The technology is an open source tool that can be shared with Unilever competitors, Blanchard said.

The long-term commercial viability of the technology will be tested by Unilever at a pilot plant in Indonesia later this year. The plant will be overseen by German research partner Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV, which hopes to recover 6kg pure polymers with the same amount of energy used in the production of 1kg virgin polymer.

“By this innovative pilot plant we can realise for the first time the recycling of high-valuable polymers from dirty post-consumer multilayer sachets,” Fraunhofer IVV head of plastic recycling Dr Andreas Mäurer said. “Our aim is to proof both: economic profitability and environmental benefits of CreaSolv® Process.”

Plastic surgery

Unilever, owner of major brands such as Persil, Dove and PG Tips, is exploring the option to establish waste collection schemes that can recycle the sachets. The Dutch firm is working with local waste banks, governments and retailers, and hopes to empower waste pickers to help them gain a long-term income that benefits the mainstream economy.

The latest announcement forms part of Unilever’s overall goal to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is fully re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan outlines a plan to reduce the weight of its packaging it by one-third by 2020, and increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline.

Unilever has given its backing to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s (EMF) New Plastics Economy initiative, which recently set out an action plan to recycle and re-use 70% of the world's plastic packaging. The goal was drafted a year after the New Plastics Economy shockingly revealed that there could be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. 

George Ogleby


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