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Unilever develops solution to allow black plastic packaging to be recycled

TRESemmé bottles

Manufacturer Unilever has revealed that it is using new black pigment for its High Polyethylene (HDPE) bottles for its brands TRESemmé and Lynx, so they are detectable by recycling scanners and sorted for recycled.  

This means that around 2,500 tonnes of plastic bottles could possibly be sorted and sent for recycling annually, said the firm. 

The new detectable bottles will be phased in during 2019 and will allow Unilever to “close the loop” further and include the recycled black plastic back in new packaging.  

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In 2019, TRESemmé and Lynx will both introduce a minimum of 30% recycled material into their packs. 

Currently, ‘standard’ black plastic bottles go undetected by the optical sorting machines in recycling plants as they use near infra-red light, which is absorbed by the ‘carbon black’ pigment used to colour them, said Unilever.  

This makes them invisible to the sorter and ends up in them being rejected and sent for waste.  

Unilever has carried out trials in partnership with RECOUP, and waste management partners Veolia, SUEZ, Viridor and TOMRA, which have proven that this new pigment can be technically detected within their material recycling facilities (MRF) in the UK.  

The knowledge from developing this solution will be made available to others in the sector, as well as to other markets around the world.  

Unilever’s solution will allow TRESemmé and Lynx bottles to be detected by recycling scanners, with small adjustments at MRF’s, so they can be separated, sorted and sent for recycling.   

This move is part of Unilever’s commitment to the UK Plastics Pact, and its new “Get Plastic Wise” campaign, a five-point plastics plan that aims to tackle plastic waste in the UK and move towards a closed loop.  

Unilever UKI general manager Sebastian Munden said: “We’ve been working on a solution for black plastic for some time, and this move to using detectable black plastic in our TRESemmé and Lynx bottles means we will potentially be removing around 2,500 tonnes of plastic from the waste stream. 

“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. We’d like to thank our industry partners for their part in working with us to make this possible.” 

RECOUP chief executive Stuart Foster said: “Through the commitment and leadership of Unilever, and with the support of the resource management industry, this is a fantastic example of how detectable pigments can be used to improve plastic packaging sortability and recyclability and shows what can be achieved through practical partnerships and real cross supply chain collaboration.” 

“Unsortable plastics, particularly the traditional carbon black packaging, has been one of the key interest areas for media, consumers and politicians in recent years. The sharing of data, knowledge and solutions was the focus of the RECOUP led Black Plastic Packaging Recycling Forum, and we encourage all manufacturers, brands and retailers to follow the leadership of companies, such as Unilever, and ensure that plastic packaging placed on the market can be recycled.” 


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