Unilever is pioneering breakthrough food packaging technology through a new partnership with start-up Ioniqa and PET resin producer Indorama Ventures.
Ioniqa has developed a proprietary technology that is able to convert any PET waste – including coloured packs – back into transparent virgin grade material.
The technology has successfully passed its pilot stage and is now moving towards testing at an industrial scale.
PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) is widely used to produce plastic packaging, yet worldwide only around 20% of this material makes its way to recycling plants with the rest either incinerated, disposed of in landfills or leaking into the natural environment.
Through its R&D Foods team, Unilever has partnered with Indorama Ventures & start-up company Ioniqa, a spin-off from the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, to tackle this challenge.
Ioniqa’s new technology takes non-recycled PET waste – like coloured bottles – and breaks it down to base molecule level, while separating the colour and other contaminants. The molecules are converted back into PET which is equal to virgin grade quality at Indorama’s facility.
If proven successful at industrial scale, in future it will be possible to convert all PET back into high quality, food-grade packaging.
The three partnering companies believe that this fully circular solution could lead to an industry transformation, since the new technology can be repeated indefinitely.
Chief R&D Officer David Blanchard said: “This innovation is particularly exciting because it could unlock one of the major barriers today – making all forms of recycled PET suitable for food packaging.
“Indeed, making the PET stream fully circular would be a major milestone towards this ambition, not just helping Unilever, but transforming industry at large.”