Unilever has pioneered a new black plastic bottle pigment that means previous hard-to-recycle vessels can be detected by recycling plant scanners and sorted for recycling.
According to the Anglo-Dutch consumer giant, the breakthrough means a further 2,500 tonnes of plastic bottles could now potentially be sent for recycling annually – the equivalent of 200 London buses, or 1,250 family-sized cars.
The new solution will be introduced this year across the TRESemmé and Lynx brands, which should lead to a minimum of 30 percent recycled material being re-used in new packaging.
Unilever confirmed trials with waste management partners Veolia, SUEZ, Viridor and TOMRA had been successful, adding it would share the technology with the rest of the industry.
Sebastian Munden, General Manager of Unilever UK and Ireland, said: “Unilever has committed to ensuring that, globally, all of our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and to using more recycled plastic content in our packaging.
“For the UK & Ireland we want to significantly accelerate this and we’re proud our innovation will help us towards achieving our aim, as well as making a significant contribution towards the UK Plastics Pact targets.”
Currently, ‘standard’ black plastic bottles go undetected by the automatic optical sorting machines in recycling plants because they use near infra-red light, which is absorbed by the ‘carbon black’ pigment traditionally used to colour them. It effectively renders them invisible to the sorter which sees them rejected and sent for waste.
Richard Kirkman, Chief Technology and
Innovation Officer, Veolia UK & Ireland said: “It’s the first time a
hi-tech solution like this has been applied to black plastics and can be rolled
out at scale – a eureka moment for recycling and a rallying call for similar
partnerships to take shape. This is exactly the kind of thing the Plastics Pact
was set up for and it’s inspiring
a generation of engineers.”