Unilever claims black plastic breakthrough

Unilever is using new technology that enables the black plastic used in some of its leading haircare brands to be recycled back into new packaging, in a move that could ultimately benefit food products.

The consumer goods giant has partnered with waste management companies Veolia, Suez, Viridor and Tomra to trial the use of a detectable black pigment for its high density polyethelyne (HDPE) bottles for its Tresemmé and Lynx brands so they can be detected by recycling plant scanners and sorted for reuse.

Most standard black plastic bottles are currently rejected by recycling plants because the automatic optical sorting machines can’t detect the carbon black pigment traditionally used to colour them.

The new detectable bottles will be phased in during 2019 and will allow Unilever to incorporate the recycled black plastic back into new packaging with both Tresemmé and Lynx introducing a minimum of 30% recycled material into their packs.

Unilever will also make the solution available to other manufacturers, including food businesses, to encourage wider adoption.

The switch to the new pigment is part of Unilever’s commitment to the UK Plastics Pact and the company’s new ‘Get Plastic Wise’ campaign, a Five Point Plastics Plan which aims to move towards a closed loop system.

“Black plastic bottles were invisible to our machines but in collaboration with Unilever we have upgraded the technology to accept ‘detectable black’ - if a bottle is marked as 'detectable' then it can come to a Veolia MRF and will be recovered,” said Richard Kirkman, chief technology and innovation officer, Veolia UK & Ireland

“Recycling is a chain of events from manufacturer, consumer to recycler and we need each part of the chain to make changes to have successful scalable results,” Kirkman added.

Rather than focus their efforts on recycling some food retailers such as Morrisons and the Co-op are choosing to switch away from black plastic packaging entirely, replacing it with clear PET.

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