Unilever solves recycling issue that can save 200 London busloads of plastic waste a year

Unilever claims to find solution for black plastic recycling issue

Unilever UK and Ireland is claiming to have cracked the problem of recycling black plastic bottles, by pioneering the development of a new detectable black pigment which it has made available to any brands keen to up their sustainable credentials.

The new technology means an additional 2,500 tonnes of plastic bottles can now potentially be sorted and sent for recycling each year in the UK alone. This equates to 1,200 family-sized cars or 200 London buses of plastic.

Over recent years, plastic recycling has become a habitual chore for eco-conscious consumers. But it has been impossible to mechanically detect and sort black plastic for recycling until now.

The 'carbon black' pigment traditionally used to colour bottles black was undetectable by sorting machines because the sorters use infra-red light which the carbon absorbs thus making it invisible. To overcome this, Unilever has developed a new detectable black pigment which will enable them to be ‘seen’ by recycling plant scanners. It has made the material openly available.

To prove the effectiveness of its plastic development, Unilever has said it has carried out extensive trials in collaboration with Recoup which is an authority in plastic recycling.

It has also partnered with waste management companies, including Vdeolia, Viridor, Suez and Tomra to prove the new pigment can be technically detected.

Unilever will phase in the new detectable bottles – which Unilever will use for its TRESemmé and Lynx brands – this year, with some bottles already starting to go into store for the shampoo brand. On top of this, the two brands will introduce a minimum of 30% recycling plastic this year.

The switch to detectable plastic is part of Unilever UK and Ireland’s five-point plastic plan that aims to tackle plastic waste in the UK as it works towards a closed loop where plastic will stay within its plastic economy and not end up in the environment.

Discussing its work to overcome the black plastic issue, Sebastian Munden general manager of Unilever UK & Ireland said: “Unilever has committed globally to all our plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to using more recycled plastic content in our packaging, and in the UK we want to significantly accelerate this.

"This latest innovation moves us further towards our goal and makes a significant contribution towards the UK Plastics Pact targets. We’d like to thank our industry partners for working with us to make this possible.”

It comes as activist group Extinction Rebellion rallies advertisers to help save the world.

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