Global firms back enzyme plastic waste solution

The world’s first enzyme technology for the recycling of plastics is being backed by a global consortium of key stakeholders.

Announced yesterday (29 April), Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe have entered into a major partnership with beauty product producer L’Oréal to facilitate the industrial-scale market launch of the new enzymatic technology. This tech has been developed by Carbios, a company pioneering new, bio-industrial solutions to reinvent the lifecycle of plastic and textile polymers.

Carbios' enzyme technology reduces PET plastic waste to its original building blocks.
Carbios uses fermentation to allow enzymes to break down PET plastic waste.
The process utilises highly specific enzymes that break down PET plastic waste (one of the most common forms of plastic used in manufacturing today) into its original building blocks. The use of enzymes facilitates a broader recycling of PET plastics and polyester fibres feedstock than other recycling technologies can achieve. At the end, recycled PET is produced, equivalent to virgin PET, which can be used for applications like bottles and other forms of packaging.

This biological approach can handle all forms of PET plastics (clear, coloured, opaque and multilayer) and polyester fibres. The process requires limited heat and no pressure or solvents, which reduces the process’ environmental footprint.

The new four-year partnership will see the consortium partners work to bring Carbios’ technology to market and increase the availability of high-quality recycled plastics to fulfil their sustainability requirements.

‘A breakthrough solution’ for plastic waste

Jean-Claude Lumaret, CEO of Carbios, welcomed the support of the consortium partners, saying: “Their contribution will accelerate our common ambition and help to industrialize our recycling technology, which brings a breakthrough solution in the treatment of plastic waste.”

Michelle Norman, Director of External Affairs and Sustainability at Lucozade Ribena Suntory, commented: “This biological approach to enable plastics to be repeatedly recycled is a world-first and moves the UK a step closer towards creating a truly circular economy for plastic recycling.

“Lucozade Ribena Suntory is especially excited to be a part of this project as we track towards ensuring that 100 per cent of our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Recent initiatives include our promise to only distribute 100 per cent recycled plastic Lucozade Sport bottles at sporting events, distributing 30,000 Lucozade Sport Ooho seaweed capsules at the Virgin Money London Marathon and redesigning our Ribena bottle to ensure the packaging is fully bottle-to-bottle recyclable.”

Enzyme technology to the fore

While Carbios’ technology is the first use of enzymatic technology to deal with waste plastics, the application of enzymes to deal with waste materials has begun to gain traction in recent times. An enzyme waste treatment plant called REnescience Northwich is set to open this year following a series of delays, with the facility set to use innovative enzyme technology to separate household waste from recyclable materials and generate energy at the same time.

Meanwhile, enzymes in the wax worm, the larvae of the greater wax moth, could hold the key to the biodegradation of polyethylene, the plastic polymer most commonly used in plastic bags. Research from the Spanish National Research Council and the University of Cambridge showed that the worms were able to break the polymer chains in polyethylene plastic by eating them.

International companies unite against plastic waste

The consortium backing Carbios’ new technology is the latest attempt on the part of major international companies to take action on plastic waste and pollution. In October last year, more than 290 global organisations – representing 20 per cent of all the plastic packaging produced globally – signed up to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment.

Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the commitment aims to eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models, ensure 100 per cent of plastic packaging can be reused, recycled or composted by 2025, and significantly increase the amount of plastics recycled into new products.

Meanwhile, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste was launched in January 2019, which sees more than 25 international businesses commit to investing $1 billion (£778 million) over the next five years in recycling infrastructure, research and waste clean-up in order to address the world’s plastic problem.

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