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Unilever to test new packaging-recycling tech in Indonesia

Company will introduce the tech elsewhere in region if the project proves viable

Unilever is testing its new sachet-recycling technology in Indonesia's East Java Province.

JAKARTA -- Consumer goods giant Unilever on Wednesday said it has opened a new facility in Indonesia as part of a pilot project for introducing a new technology for recycling sachets used to hold shampoos and other products.

Single-use sachets are widely sold in developing and emerging markets such as Indonesia. The Anglo-Dutch company said billions of such packages -- including its own -- are sold every year, but that recycling them has long been a problem due to technological hurdles.

To address this, Unilever said it has developed a technology it calls the CreaSolv Process together with the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV.

"With this innovative pilot plant we can, for the first time ever, recycle high-value polymers from dirty, post-consumer, multilayer sachets," said Andreas Maurer, head of the plastic recycling department at Fraunhofer.

The facility, in Sidoarjo, East Java, will "test the long-term commercial viability of the technology." If successful, it will be applied in other developing markets, especially in Southeast Asia, said Sancoyo Antarikso, director for governance and corporate affairs at Unilever Indonesia.

The company plans to work with local waste collectors, waste banks and retailers to help collect used sachets.

"Using this approach, we'll be able to reduce our environmental footprint, while creating economic value and potential additional incomes for the communities, the recycling industry and other stakeholders," Antarikso told reporters.

Unilever Indonesia hopes the Indonesian government will promote the concept of separating household waste to make collecting sachets easier. Currently, most Indonesian households do not separate their recyclable and nonrecyclable waste, as the country's outdated waste management system is not yet capable of accommodating the practice.

Indonesia produces an estimated 0.5 million to 1.3 million metric tons of plastic marine debris every year, making it the second-largest producer of plastic waste polluting the world's oceans after China, according to a study published at the Science journal in 2015.

The new recycling facility will initially be able to process 3 tons of plastic sachets every day. Antarikso said once the operations prove viable from the business side, Unilever will let a "business partner" take over to handle commercial-scale production.

He added that Unilever will use the end products as materials for packaging, which is expected to reduce costs.

David Blanchard, chief R&D officer at the parent company, said: "We intend to make this tech open-source and would hope to scale the technology with industry partners, so others -- including our competitors -- can use it."

Unilever said it wants all of its plastic packaging to be "fully reusable, recyclable or compostable" by 2025.

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