PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is widely used to produce plastic packaging, yet only about 15% makes its way to recycling plants. The rest is either incinerated, disposed of in landfills or is leaking into nature. At Unilever, we use it in bottles for dressings, beverages, and in home and personal care products. Elsewhere, it can be found in anything from food packaging trays to textiles and insulation padding in clothing.
The main reason it’s not recycled is because of the lack of infrastructure in many parts of the world to collect and sort through discarded plastic. Some PET plastics can be collected, washed, ground down and turned into something new. But colored plastic, or collected plastic that has been contaminated with food, can’t always be recycled for use as food-safe packaging, as removing traces of color or contaminants has proved extremely challenging. Until now, that is.
We have been working with Ioniqa, a start-up company in the Netherlands. They have developed a technology that uses a patented magnetic catalyst to break PET plastic down to molecular level – so back to the original building blocks. That means we can take any type of PET waste, then break it down to remove color and impurities. We can then turn it back into pure, clean, transparent PET plastic that’s food-grade ready.
Image courtesy of unilever.com