New technology to convert PET waste back into virgin grade material

It was really exciting to see the latest polymer research news concerning Unilever and a fellow company from the Netherlands, Ioniqa Technologies B.V.

The start-up company Ioniqa, which is a commercial spin-out from the Eindhoven University of Technology, is part of the recently announced technology partnership to convert PET waste back into virgin grade material for use in food packaging.

Key to the partnership is Indorama Ventures who are the largest global producer of PET resin.

Ioniqa’s new technology works by taking non-recycled PET waste – such as coloured plastic bottles – and then breaks them down into the base molecule level, whilst separating the colour and any other contaminants. The molecules are then converted back into a PET which is equal to a virgin grade quality at Indorama’s facility and suitable to be reused in the flexible packaging industry.

Although the technology has proven successful in the R&D stage if proven successful at on an industrial scale, it is thought that in the near 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 thus bringing real sustainability improvements to the global flexible packaging industry.

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.

In 2017, Unilever committed to a promise of achieving the goal to have all of its plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Chief R&D Officer David Blanchard said that Unilever is proud to support another sustainable packaging innovation.

“We want all of our packaging to be fit for a world that is circular by design, stepping away from the take-make-dispose model that we currently live in. 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.”

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