Endlessly recyclable PET plastic is ‘one step closer’ today, according to a consortium of consumer brands that have successfully produced food-grade PET plastic bottles produced entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic.
The company in the consortium (Carbios, L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe) has successfully manufactured sample bottles – based on Carbios’ enzymatic PET recycling technology – for some of their leading products including: Biotherm, Perrier, Pepsi Max and Orangina.
Today’s announcement is the culmination of nearly 10 years’ research and development by Carbios to create a new process and ‘supercharge’ an enzyme naturally occurring in compost heaps that normally breaks down leaf membranes of dead plants.
By adapting this enzyme, Carbios says it has ‘fine-tuned’ the technology and optimised this enzyme to break down any kind of PET plastic (regardless of colour or complexity) into its building blocks, which can then be turned back into like-new, ‘virgin-quality plastic’, it says.
This is a truly transformational innovation that could finally fully close the loop on PET plastic supply globally, so that it never becomes waste.
Carbios’ enzymatic PET recycling process enables a wide variety of PET plastics to be recycled into virgin quality, food grade rPET, it says.
Post-consumer PET plastics can be ‘brought back into a continuous circular system of recycling’, it says. And that this can be achieved at high speed – breaking down 97% of plastic in 16 hours. It says this is 10,000 times more efficient than any biological plastic recycling trial to date, according to a peer-reviewed article in Nature.
Commenting on the announcement, Carbios’ CEO Jean Claude Lumaret commented: “In a world first, we have created food-grade clear bottles from enzymatically recycled coloured and complex plastic with identical properties to virgin PET, and in partnership with the Consortium, we have proved the viability of the technology with the world’s leading brands.
“This is a truly transformational innovation that could finally fully close the loop on PET plastic supply globally, so that it never becomes waste.”
Enzymatic recycling overcomes the issue of degradation in conventional recycling and can be used on any type of PET plastic, Carbios says. Because the recycling process works under mild conditions, it could also lower the carbon footprint of PET waste treatment by saving 30% of CO2 emissions compared to a conventional end of life mix of incineration and landfill, taking virgin PET production substitution into account.
The successful completion of these initial food-grade bottles is a major milestone in the Consortium’s validation of Carbios’ technology. This partnership is part of a growing trend amongst brands to collaborate across industries to tackle these global challenges, working towards a world of circularity, where we limit the production of virgin plastic.
Carbios will license its technology to PET manufacturers worldwide, accelerating the global adoption of enzymatic recycling for all kinds of PET based products.
This is a promising innovation for the years to come that demonstrates our commitment to bring to market more environmentally friendly packaging and which is part of a circularity initiative begun more than 15 years ago
The consortium brands will now work to scale this innovation to help meet the global demand for sustainable packaging solutions. In September 2021, Carbios will break ground on a demonstration plant, before launching a 40,000 tonnes capacity industrial facility, by 2025.
Jacques Playe, L’Oréal’s Global Head of Packaging and Product Development added: “We have been working with Carbios since 2017 to develop this first bottle made from PET derived from enzymatic recycling technology, an alternative to mechanical recycling.
“We are pleased to announce today the feasibility of these bottles in a pilot phase and are delighted to be in a position to create the packaging of the future with our partners.
“This is a promising innovation for the years to come that demonstrates our commitment to bring to market more environmentally friendly packaging and which is part of a circularity initiative begun more than 15 years ago”.
Jean-Francois Briois, Head of Packaging Material Science and Environmental Sustainability Nestlé Waters global R&D added: “It is very exciting to see that the quality of the prototype bottles made from colored recycled PET materials is virtually identical to clear virgin PET. When we reach industrial scale, this enzymatic recycling technology will enable us to produce high-quality rPET bottles and help Nestlé Waters in our journey to boost the circular economy and reduce the use of virgin plastics.”