Unilever develops new technology to tackle plastic sachet waste

Written by: Editorial staff | Published:
A retailer in Indonesia selling sachets

Unilever has unveiled its new technology aimed at recycling sachet waste. Entitled CreaSolv Process, the technology has been developed with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany and is reported to have been inspired by an innovation used to recycle TV sets.

"Billions of single-use sachets are sold every year, particularly in developing and emerging markets," said David Blanchard, chief R&D officer at Unilever. "Sachets are extremely resource efficient and allow low-income consumers to buy small amounts of products that would otherwise be unaffordable to them. But without a viable recycling solution, sachet packaging ends up in landfill or as litter. As part of our Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has long been committed to finding an alternative to throwing sachets away."

According to Unilever, CreaSolv Process technology has been adapted from a method used to separate brominated flame retardants from waste electrical and electronic equipment polymers. During the process, the plastic is recovered from the sachet, and the plastic then used to create new sachets for Unilever products - creating a full circular economy approach.

“At the start of this year we made a commitment to develop new recycling technologies. We intend to make this tech open source and would hope to scale the technology with industry partners, so others – including our competitors – can use it," explained Blanchard before adding: “There is a clear economic case for delivering this. 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. We believe that our commitment to making 100% of our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable will support the long-term growth of our business.”

Unilever said it plans to open a pilot plant in Indonesia later this year to test the long-term commercial viability of the technology. Indonesia, is a critical country in which to tackle waste, is reported to produce 64m tonnes every year, with 1.3m tonnes ending up in the ocean.

To tackle the industry-wide sachet waste issue, Unilever said it is looking to create a sustainable system change by setting up waste collection schemes to channel the sachets to be recycled. Currently Unilever is reported to be testing this by working with local waste banks, governments and retailers and said it will look to empower waste pickers, integrate them into the mainstream economy and to provide a potential long-term income, generating wider growth in the economy.

"This announcement is part of Unilever’s pledge to ensure all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Unilever had already committed to reducing the weight of its packaging by one-third by 2020 and increasing the use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025," continued Blanchard.

Dr Andreas Mäurer, department head of plastic recycling at the Fraunhofer IVV, stated: “By this innovative pilot-plant we can realise for the first time the recycling of high-valuable polymers from dirty post-consumer multilayer sachets. Our aim is to proof both: economic profitability and environmental benefits of CreaSolv Process. Our calculations indicate that we are able to recover six kilogram pure polymers with the same energy effort equal to the production of one kilogram virgin polymer.”

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