New idea to tackle global issue of plastic waste

Unilever and the Fraunhofer Institute has developed a potentially ground-breaking new technology to combat the hundreds of billions of single-use plastic sachets thrown away globally every year.

Plastic Waste Beach Rubbish Sustainable stock - image courtesy of Pixabay.The new technology – CreaSolv Process – recycles plastic sachet waste and is reportedly inspired by an innovation used to recycle television sets.

Billions of single-use sachets are sold every year, particularly in developing and emerging markets as they allow low-income consumers to buy small amounts of products that would otherwise prove unaffordable.

But without a viable recycling solution, these sachets typically end up in landfill or as litter. As part of its Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has committed to finding an alternative to throwing sachets away.

CreaSolv® Process, developed by Unilever and the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Germany, 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 circular economy approach.

Unilever’s chief R&D officer, David Blanchard explained: “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 US$80-120bn is lost to the economy through failing to properly recycle plastics each year. Finding a solution represents a huge opportunity.”

Unilever is expected to open a pilot plant in Indonesia later this year to test the long-term commercial viability of the technology. Indonesia was selected as it produces some 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 to provide a potential long term income, generating wider growth in the economy.