Unilever, London, announced a partnership with Ioniqa, a spin-off from the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, and Indorama Ventures, a Thailand-based producer of PET resin, to pioneer a new technology that converts PET waste back into virgin-grade material for use in food packaging.

Ioniqa developed a proprietary technology that is able to convert any PET waste, including colored packs, back into transparent virgin-grade material. The technology passed its pilot stage and is now moving toward testing at an industrial scale.

Ioniqa’s new technology takes non-recycled PET waste like colored bottles and breaks it down to base molecule level, while separating the color 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, it will be possible to convert all PET back into high-quality, food-grade packaging.

In 2017, Unilever committed to all of its plastic packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

“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,” says David Blanchard, chief R&D officer. “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 toward this ambition, not just helping Unilever, but [also] transforming industry at large.”

“We aspire to be a world-class chemical company making great products for society, and this partnership is fully aligned with our vision,” adds Aloke Lohia, group CEO of Indorama Ventures. “Our approach is not limited to our own operations, but we take the entire supply chain into account, including what happens to our products after use. We therefore look forward to working closely with Unilever and Ioniqa to leverage this state-of-the-art technology that contributes to tackling the global issue of waste, and enables us to go beyond the role of a polymer manufacturer.

“To scale up our unique solution for PET plastics, we are delighted to work together with partners like Unilever and Indorama Ventures,” says Tonnis Hooghoudt, founder and CEO of Ioniqa. “Through our collaboration, Ioniqa’s innovative technology can turn PET waste into a truly circular material, which holds value after disposal by consumers, helping to clean up the planet.”