A consortium of global brands, including L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo, and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe, in cooperation with green biotech company Carbios have carried out the successful production of the world’s first food-grade PET plastic bottles produced entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic.
Each consortium company has successfully manufactured sample bottles, based on Carbios’ enzymatic PET recycling technology, for some of their leading products. These include packaging for L’Oréal’s Biotherm skincare, Perrier water from Nestlé Waters, Pepsi Max (also known as Pepsi Black or Pepsi Zero Sugar in other global markets), and Suntory’s Orangina beverage.
The announcement on June 24 was the culmination of nearly 10 years’ research and development by Carbios to create a new process and supercharge an enzyme naturally occurring in compost heaps that normally breaks down the leaf membranes of dead plants. By adapting this enzyme, Carbios says it has fine-tuned the technology and has optimized this enzyme to break down any kind of PET plastic—regardless of color or complexity—into its building blocks, which can then be turned back into like-new, virgin-quality plastic.
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Says Jacques Playe, L’Oréal’s Global Head of Packaging and Product Development, “We have been working with Carbios since 2017 to develop this first bottle made from PET derived from enzymatic recycling technology, an alternative to mechanical recycling. We are pleased to announce the feasibility of these bottles in a pilot phase and are delighted to be in a position to create the packaging of the future with our partners. This is a promising innovation for the years to come that demonstrates our commitment to bring to market more environmentally friendly packaging and which is part of a circularity initiative begun more than 15 years ago.”
As Carbios explains, its patented enzymatic PET recycling process enables a wide variety of PET plastics to be recycled into virgin-quality, food-grade rPET. PET plastics that would otherwise go to waste or be incinerated can now be brought back into a continuous circular system of recycling. And, according to Carbios, this can be achieved at high speeds, breaking down 97% of plastic in just 16 hours, which the company is says is 10,000-times more efficient than any biological plastic recycling trial to date (see peer-reviewed article in Nature).
Furthermore, Carbios explains, enzymatic recycling overcomes the issue of degradation in conventional recycling. Because Carbios’ recycling process works under mild conditions, it could also lower the carbon footprint of PET waste treatment by saving 30% of CO2 emissions compared to a conventional end-of-life mix of incineration and landfill, taking virgin PET production substitution into account (Preliminary Life Cycle Assessment of Carbios PET recycling process, 2021).
Together, the consortium will work to scale this innovation to help meet the global demand for sustainable packaging solutions. In September 2021, Carbios will break ground on a demonstration plant, before launching a 40,000-ton-capacity industrial facility by 2025.
Says Carbios CEO Jean Claude Lumaret, “In a world first, we have created food-grade clear bottles from enzymatically recycled colored and complex plastic with identical properties to virgin PET, and in partnership with the Consortium, we have proved the viability of the technology with the world’s leading brands. This is a truly transformational innovation that could finally fully close the loop on the PET plastic supply globally, so that it never becomes waste.”
Adds Jean-Francois Briois, Head of Packaging Material Science and Environmental Sustainability, Nestlé Waters global R&D, “It is very exciting to see that the quality of the prototype bottles made from colored recycled PET materials is virtually identical to clear virgin PET. When we reach industrial scale, this enzymatic recycling technology will enable us to produce high-quality rPET bottles and help Nestlé Waters in our journey to boost the circular economy and reduce the use of virgin plastics.”
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Says Ron Khan, Global VP of Packaging, Beverages, PepsiCo, “PepsiCo is committed to building a circular economy to achieve our vision that packaging never becomes waste. We are dedicated to reducing the virgin plastic we use, and with the breakthrough Carbios enzymatic recycling technology, we can help keep valuable material in the circular economy, reduce waste, and take another step toward a truly closed-loop system.”
Roberto Vanin, Chief R&D Officer, Suntory Beverage & Food Europe, adds, “The global issue of plastic waste requires transformational thinking, creative partnerships, and innovative brands coming together to seek out new solutions. Continued investment in new ways of tackling waste and creating true circularity such as this ground-breaking technology from Carbios, will be key to Suntory Beverage & Food Europe achieving its 100% sustainable plastic ambition.”