Food-grade sample bottles produced by a consortium of companies dedicated to the cause are using Carbios' breakthrough enzymatic recycling process.
The potential to endlessly recycle PET plastic recently became a step closer to reality, as a consortium of companies dedicated to the cause — Carbios, L’Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe — announced the successful production of the world’s first food-grade PET plastic bottles produced entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic.
Each participating company has successfully manufactured sample bottles — based on Carbios’ enzymatic PET recycling technology — for leading products including Biotherm, Perrier, Pepsi Max (aka Pepsi Black and Pepsi Zero Sugar in some markets) and Orangina.
The breakthrough is the culmination of nearly 10 years’ research and development by Carbios — a French company pioneering bio-industrial solutions to reinvent the lifecycle of plastic and textile polymers — which developed a process to supercharge an enzyme naturally occurring in compost heaps that normally breaks down leaf membranes of dead plants. By adapting this enzyme, Carbios has fine-tuned the technology and optimized it to break down any kind of PET plastic (regardless of color or complexity) into its building blocks, which can then be turned back into like-new, virgin-quality plastic.
As Carbios CEO Jean Claude Lumaret explains:
“In a world first, we have created food-grade clear bottles from enzymatically recycled, colored 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.”
Carbios’ patented enzymatic PET-recycling process enables a wide variety of PET plastics to be recycled into virgin quality, food grade rPET. PET plastics that would otherwise go to waste or be incinerated, can now be brought back into a continuous circular system of recycling. And this can be achieved at high speed — breaking down 97 percent of plastic in just 16 hours — 10,000 times more efficient than any biological plastic recycling trial to date, according to a peer-reviewed article in Nature.
Together, these brands will 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 tons capacity industrial facility, by 2025. Carbios plans to license the technology to PET manufacturers worldwide, accelerating the global adoption of enzymatic recycling for all kinds of PET-based products — which, at scale, would definitely be a boon to, for example, the US Plastics Pact and its goal for the country to achieve a circular economy for plastics in the next four years.
In 2017, Carbios and L’Oréal founded a consortium to bring Carbios’ enhanced recycling technology to market on an industrial scale. Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Europe signed on in 2019 to help further drive the circular innovation.
“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,” said Jacques Playe, L’Oréal’s Global Head of Packaging and Product Development. “We are pleased to announce 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.”
Enzymatic recycling overcomes the issue of degradation in conventional recycling and can be used on any type of PET plastic. Because Carbios’ recycling process works under mild conditions, it could also lower the carbon footprint of PET waste treatment by saving 30 percent 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 and eliminate plastic pollution from the environment.
“The global issue of plastic waste requires transformational thinking, creative partnerships and innovative brands coming together to seek out new solutions,” said Roberto Vanin, Chief R&D Officer at Suntory Beverage & Food Europe. “Continued investment in new ways of tackling waste and creating true circularity such as this groundbreaking technology from Carbios will be key to Suntory Beverage & Food Europe achieving its 100 percent sustainable plastic ambition.”
* Preliminary Life Cycle Assessment of Carbios PET recycling process, 2021