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Unilever’s New Technology for Dealing with Sampling Waste

May 15, 2017

An example of circular economy in action

To help deal with hundreds of billions of plastic sachets that are thrown away globally every year, Unilever has unveiled what it says is groundbreaking new technology to recycle sachet waste. This technology, called CreaSolv Process, has been developed with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany and is inspired by an innovation used to recycle TV sets.
 
The brand manufacturer says this is an example of circular economy in action: sachets will be turned into plastic and channeled back into the supply chain. According to Unilever, today, only 14% of all plastic packaging is recycled globally.
 
In an overall plan, Unilever has pledged to make 100% of packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.
 
Billions of single-use sachets are sold every year, particularly in developing and emerging markets. Sachets tend to be inexpensive 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 its Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has long been committed to finding an alternative to throwing sachets away.
 
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.
 
According to David Blanchard, chief R&D officer, Unilever: “Billions of sachets are used once and just thrown away, all over the world, ending up in landfill or in our waterways and oceans. At the start of this year we made a commitment to help solve this problem, developing 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.”
 
He says, “There is a clear economic case for delivering this. We know that globally $80-120 billion 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 will 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, producing 64m tons every year, with 1.3m tons ending up in the ocean.
 
To tackle the industry-wide sachet waste issue, Unilever is looking to create a sustainable system change by setting up waste collection schemes to channel the sachets to be recycled. Currently Unilever is testing this by working with local waste banks, governments and retailers and 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.
 
 Dr. Andreas Mäurer, department head of plastic recycling at the Fraunhofer IVV said: "With this innovative pilot plant we can, for the first time ever, recycle high-value polymers from dirty, post-consumer, multi-layer sachets. Our aim is to prove the economic profitability and environmental benefits of the CreaSolv Process. Our calculations indicate that we are able to recover six kilos of pure polymers with the same energy effort as the production of one kilo of virgin polymer."
 
Unilever states further: “While this new technology represents a major step forward, plastic waste is a multi-faceted challenge that will require continued innovation in technology, design, delivery models and materials to create a full circular economy for plastics. Unilever will continue its work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation's New Plastics Economy initiative and continue looking for additional solutions.”