Unilever develops technology to tackle plastic sachet waste

Created with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany, new technology channels plastic sachet waste back into the supply chain.

Unilever today has its 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.

According to Unilever, billions of single-use sachets are sold every year, particularly in developing and emerging markets.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 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.

Says David Blanchard, Chief R&D Officer of 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.

“There is a clear economic case for delivering this. We know that globally $80 billion to 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 percent 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.Says the company, Indonesia, is a critical country in which to tackle waste, producing 64 million tonnes every year, with 1.3 million tonnes 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 provide a potential long-term income, generating wider growth in the economy.

This announcement is part of Unilever’s pledge to ensure all 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.

Says Dr. Andreas Mäurer, Department Head of Plastic Recycling at the Fraunhofer IVV, “By this innovative pilot plant we can realize for the first time the recycling of high-valuable polymers from dirty post-consumer multilayer sachets. Our aim is to prove both: economic profitability and environmental benefits of the 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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