Companies join forces to help tackle plastic waste with BP’s enhanced recycling technology

Source: press release, 19 December 2019

illustration: BP
illustration: BP

Companies operating across the polyester packaging value chain – including businesses involved in the manufacture, use, collection and recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic packaging – have announced they have formed a new consortium that aims to help to address the problem of plastic waste by accelerating the commercialisation of BP Infinia enhanced recycling technology.

BP Infinia is designed to turn opaque and difficult-to-recycle (known as ODR) PET plastic waste, that can degrade in quality each time it is recycled using conventional methods, into recycled feedstocks that can be used to make new high-quality PET plastic packaging again and again, with no loss in quality.

The consortium intends to combine the capabilities and experience of its members – packaging and recycling specialist ALPLA; food, drink and consumer goods producers Britvic, Danone and Unilever; waste management and recycling specialist REMONDIS; and energy and petrochemicals producer BP – to develop a new circular approach to dealing with PET plastic waste.

PET is a plastic widely used for rigid food packaging and drinks, personal care and homecare bottles. It is a lightweight, durable and versatile material and one of the most collected and recycled types of plastic [1]. Of the PET plastic bottles collected globally, more than 75% are recycled, but only 12% of those collected make it back into new bottles [2]. The remainder is currently lost from the bottle-to-bottle loop [3], as it is used for other applications which are usually disposed of directly after use to landfills or incinerators due to lack of separate collection.

The consortium members believe by joining forces they can speed up the commercialisation of the technology, infrastructure and demand needed to process billions of opaque and difficult-to-recycle PET bottles and food trays that are currently disposed of each year, including those that are difficult to recycle by current conventional recycling methods [4].

It is the intention that each member of the consortium will contribute resources and distinctive capabilities and experience in areas such as waste management and recycling, technology development, intermediate processing and product design to develop a business model that takes into consideration the infrastructure, supply chain and demand requirements of all parties that will be involved in creating a circular economy for polyester and PET plastic.

In October 2019, BP announced plans to construct a USD 25 million pilot plant in the US to prove the technology on a continuous basis before progressing to full-scale commercialisation.

Other parties may join the consortium in the future to complement the expertise of the founding members.

[1] Source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation: The New Plastics Economy, Napcor.

[2] Source: BP calculations based on Wood MacKenzie Chemicals Data. PETcollection rates are based on bottle consumption alone; of the 27 million tonnes of PET produced for food and drinks packaging, 23 million tonnes are consumed as bottles and 4 million tonnes as thermoformed products, such as food trays. In 2019, it is estimated that some 13 million tonnes of bottles are collected globally and converted into 10 million tonnes of post-consumer resin. Of that, 1.6 million tonnes are used for bottles.

[3] Recycling a PET bottle back into a new PET bottle.

[4] Source: BP calculations based on production of recycled PTA from multiple facilities – amounting to a scale equivalent to a typical virgin PTA plant of around 1 million tonnes – would require total feedstock of many millions of tonnes of opaque and difficult-to-recycle PET packaging. Based on the average weight of specific packaging types suitable for this technology (from 10 to 30 grams), this feedstock would equate to billions of packaging items.