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Unilever and Coca-Cola roll out recycling initiatives

The consumer product giants are deepening commitments to plastics reuse

by Alexander H. Tullo
October 9, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 40

A photo of a plastic bottle that was made from ocean plastics.
Credit: Coca-Cola
Cola-Cola worked with Ioniqa and Indorama to produce this bottle from ocean plastics.

As the world clamors for solutions to the plastic waste problem, big consumer product firms are launching initiatives to use more recycled plastics. Unilever is promising a big reduction in the use of new plastics, while Coca-Cola is demonstrating bottles derived from ocean plastics.

Unilever aims to cut its use of virgin plastics—now about 700,000 metric tons (t) per year—in half by 2025. Part of the reduction will come from a more than 100,000 t reduction in its use of plastic overall. The balance will be achieved through its previously disclosed initiative to incorporate at least 25% recycled plastic.

The company uses only 5,000 t of recycled content today.

“Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in announcing the initiative. “We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle.”

Additionally, to offset the plastic it does use, Unilever will help collect 600,000 t per year of plastic waste for recycling. To this end it will invest in partnerships, buy recycled plastics, and pay for the collection of its packaging.

Conrad B. MacKerron, senior vice president for the environmental group As You Sow, which has been prodding Unilever about plastic, said in a statement that he salutes the company for its new measures. “However, meeting these recycled content collection goals will require unprecedented collaboration,” he said.

Unilever has already started. For example, the firm is putting its Magnum ice cream in tubs made from chemically recycled plastic from a partnership between Sabic and Plastic Energy. The firms use pyrolysis to break down plastic and process it into new resin.

Such initiatives are spreading. Coca-Cola has produced about 300 sample polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles made from plastics recovered from the ocean. The company worked with the startup Ioniqa Technology, which recently inaugurated a 10,000 t per year plant in the Netherlands that breaks down PET into bis (2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalate. Indorama Ventures converted this monomer into PET.

Coca-Cola extended a loan to Ioniqa earlier this year and says it wants to use chemically recycled content in its bottles by next year.



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