Unilever commits to PET recycling venture

Consumer products firm enters partnership to recycle postconsumer PET scrap into virgin-quality resin.


Europe-based consumer products maker Unilever has announced a partnership with Ioniqa Technologies and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) resins producer Indorama Ventures to pioneer a new technology designed to convert PET scrap back into virgin-grade material for use in food packaging.

Ioniqa indicates it has developed a technology designed to convert any PET scrap, including colored packaging, back into what it calls transparent virgin-grade material. “The technology has successfully passed its pilot stage and is now moving toward testing at an industrial scale,” the company states.

PET is widely used to produce plastic packaging, with Unilever estimating that worldwide about 20 percent of the material makes its way to recycling plants. The rest, states the company, is “either incinerated, disposed of in landfills or leaking into the natural environment.”

Netherlands-based Ioniqa’s new technology takes PET scrap and breaks it down to its base molecule level, while separating the color and other contaminants, according to the three firms involved in the partnership. The molecules are converted at Indorama’s facility back into PET that can be equal to virgin-grade quality, the firms indicate.

The three partnering companies state that if the technology is proven successful at industrial scale, it will be possible in the future to convert all PET back into food-grade packaging. The companies refer to that scenario as a “fully circular solution [that] could lead to an industry transformation, since the new technology can be repeated indefinitely.”

In 2017, Unilever committed to all of its plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

“We want all of our packaging to be fit for a world that is circular by design, stepping away from the take-make-dispose model that we currently live in,” says Unilever Chief R&D Officer David Blanchard. “This innovation is particularly exciting because it could unlock one of the major barriers today – making all forms of recycled PET suitable for food packaging. Indeed, making the PET stream fully circular would be a major milestone toward this ambition, not just helping Unilever, but transforming industry at large.”

Comments Aloke Lohia, group CEO of Thailand-based Indorama Ventures, “We aspire to be a world-class chemical company making great products for society, and this partnership is fully aligned with our vision. We therefore look forward to working closely with Unilever and Ioniqa to leverage this state-of-the-art technology that contributes to tackling the global issue of waste and enables us to go beyond the role of a polymer manufacturer.”

Adds Tonnis Hooghoudt, founder and CEO of Ioniqa, “To scale up our unique solution for PET plastics, we are delighted to work together with partners like Unilever and Indorama Ventures. Through our collaboration, Ioniqa’s innovative technology can turn PET waste into a truly circular material which holds value after disposal by consumers, helping to clean up the planet.”