Unilever unveils solution to recycle black plastic bottles

Unilever unveils solution to recycle black plastic bottles

May 24, 2019
Press Release: Unilever

Unilever has cracked the tricky problem of recycling black plastic bottles – and is making the technology available to everybody

Unilever is to use a new detectable black pigment for its High Density Polyethelyne (HDPE) bottles on leading brands, TRESemmé and Lynx, so they can be detected by recycling plant scanners and sorted for recycling. This means that around a further 2,500 tonnes of plastic bottles could now potentially be sorted and sent for recycling each year – equivalent to the weight of 1,250 family-sized cars.

The new detectable bottles will be phased in during 2019 and will allow Unilever to further ‘close the loop’ and include the recycled black plastic back in new packaging. In 2019, TRESemmé and Lynx will both introduce a minimum of 30% recycled material into their packs.

Currently ‘standard’ black plastic bottles go undetected by the automatic optical sorting machines in recycling plants because they use near infra-red light, which is absorbed by the ‘carbon black’ pigment traditionally used to colour them. This effectively makes them invisible to the sorter and leads to them being rejected and sent for waste.

Unilever has carried out extensive trials, in partnership with RECOUP and waste management partners Veolia, SUEZ, Viridor and TOMRA, which have proven that this new pigment can be technically detected within their material recycling facilities in the UK.

The knowledge and expertise from developing this technical solution for detectable black bottles will be made accessible to others in the industry, as well as to other markets globally. We will be pleased to share our work and the insights generated with other manufacturers to enable wide use of this technology and approach.

Unilever’s solution will enable TRESemmé and Lynx bottles to be detected by recycling scanners, with minor adjustments at the material recycling facilities, so they can be technically separated,

“Unilever has committed to ensuring that, globally, all of our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to using more recycled plastic content in our packaging,” said Sebastian Munden, general manager of Unilever UKI. “For the UK and Ireland we want to significantly accelerate this and we’re proud our innovation will help us towards achieving our aim, as well as making a significant contribution towards the UK Plastics Pact targets.”

“Tackling plastic waste is complex and involves collaboration across the supply chain,” added Plastic Free World Conference & Expo speaker, Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at WRAP, which manages The UK Plastics Pact. “We welcome this move by Unilever and steps taken by waste management companies to trial the sorting of the packaging. We now call for wide scale adoption of detectable black pigments by brands and retailers, and the sorting and reprocessing of that packaging by the recycling sector.”

“We have welcomed the general reduction in the use of unnecessary black plastics placed on the market but recognise the responsible lead Unilever has taken in seeking to create a closed loop solution for their black plastic products, including the design and testing of detectable black plastic polymers,” concluded Stuart Hayward-Higham, technical development director at SUEZ. “In collaborating, the value chain is starting to show what is possible. We look forward to continuing to work on this project to see how these materials can successfully be collected, sorted and recycled into new Unilever products within the existing or future mainstream waste management systems.”

Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 will take place from Thursday 27 June to Friday 28 June, at the Kap Europa, Frankfurt Messe, Frankfurt, Germany. To register for this highly focused and solutions-driven event, please click here. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

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