Unilever introduces pigment to improve recycling of black plastic

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Black plastic is notoriously hard to recycle due to the dark pigment - scanners and sorting machines at recycling plants cannot detect black plastic. Now, global consumer goods conglomerate, Unilever, has decided to introduce a new detectable black pigment for some of its high-density polyethylene (HDPE) products, such as shampoo bottles.Unilever’s new black pigment will allow a further 2500 tonnes of plastic bottles and tubes to be recycled every year. Currently, standard black plastic waste items go undetected by the optical sorting machines at recycling facilities because they use infrared light to detect the plastic. However, black pigment absorbs this infrared light, making black plastic invisible to the scannersUnilever’s new pigment does not absorb infrared light and can be detected by the sorting machines. They intend to share their knowledge with other brands so that all black plastics can be recycled. In addition, Unilever has announced that a minimum of 30% recycled materials will be used for the packaging of their TRESemmé shampoo and Lynx deodorant brands.

Black plastic now more easy to recycle

“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,” says the general manager of Unilever UK, Sebastien Munden.“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. We’d like to thank our industry partners for their part in working with us to make this possible,” Munden explains.

Industry welcomes the steps taken by Unilever

“Tackling plastic waste is complex and involves collaboration across the supply chain. We welcome this move by Unilever and steps taken by waste management companies to trial the sorting of the packaging,” says Helen Bird, the strategic engagement manager at WRAP - a company that has worked alongside Unilever on the development of the black pigment.“We now call for wide-scale adoption of detectable black pigments by brands and retailers, and the sorting and reprocessing of that packaging by the recycling sector,” states Bird. Similar sentiments are held by RECOUP, a recycling company in the United Kingdom that will directly benefit from the recycling of black plastic items.“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,” says the chief executive officer of RECOUP Stuart Foster.If other consumer goods companies follow suit with their black plastic packaging and products, then recycling rates around the world will be further bolstered. The South African plastic recycling rates are steadily improving year-on-year, but if black plastic can be detected by sorting machines then this rate will climb even higher.___Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment. ___By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, pipe inspection, CCTV, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries. ___Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for the best tips on recycling and the latest industry news. See our Instagram and YouTube channels for more insights into environmental affairs and our work with local communities.