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The Unilever-led group developed a color-based technology that will produce sustainable black plastic that can be recycled at scale. Currently, most black plastic ends up in landfills.

Bruce Adams

September 27, 2021

2 Min Read
black plastic resin
Image: Alessandro Viapiano/Alamy Stock Photo

A cross-industry work group consisting of member companies of the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) has successfully developed recyclable black plastic. APR undertook the project approximately three years ago because black plastic often ends in landfills because waste-sorting systems cannot recognize traditional black color pigments.

Approximately 15% of plastic waste in the United States is made up of black plastic, according to Unilever. The company encouraged APR to form a work group to research potential solutions to address this problem.

After three years of conducting trials and testing of its own products, the work group developed a color-based technology that will produce sustainable black plastic that can be recycled at scale.

Led by Unilever, the group developed a low-cost test method for rapid detection of HDPE- and PP-based black packaging components using near-infrared technology, according to Melissa Craig, Senior Manager for Packaging Sustainability, Unilever North America. The group consisted of several color manufacturers that developed new colors and pigment technology. Unilever tested several variations of detectable black colorants on some of its products lines, Craig said.

The group’s commitment and investment in this project was a determining factor in the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s (SPC) decision to move sortable HDPE black plastic that meets APR and How2Recycle requirements to a widely recyclable designation. SPC is an environmental organization that recognizes meaningful contributions and advancements toward making packaging more sustainable.

The detectable black colorant designed by the color manufacturers is available globally, according to Unilever.

“This was a true partnership with APR and members of the Detectable Black/Dark Color Plastic Working Group,” Craig said. “The working group was the catalyst for elevating the conversation on getting sortable black plastic that has been proven with APR test methods to be eligible for a recyclable How2Recycle label.”

Unilever has begun using the recyclable black plastic in some of its packaging lines and has transitioned most of its Axe portfolio, which is composed of 100% post-consumer recycled plastic, Craig said.

About the Author(s)

Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams is an experienced content creator and trade publishing veteran who has written extensively about the plastics, automotive aftermarket, hospitality, tire, rubber, mining, and construction industries.

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