P&G teams up with Dow on hard-to-recycle plastic waste scheme

By Julia Wray | Published: 3-Apr-2024

As the FMCG and chemicals giants partner on a new polyethylene recycling technology, Cosmetics Business looks into beauty players cracking down on the toughest waste

Procter & Gamble (P&G) and chemicals giant Dow are collaborating on a new, ultra-efficient plastic waste recycling technology. 

The Gillette and Head & Shoulders owner has entered into a joint development agreement with Dow, which will see the companies convert hard-to-recycle plastic packaging into recycled polyethylene.

This material will be near-virgin quality with a lower greenhouse gas emissions footprint than fossil-based polyethylene.

According to the companies, the scheme will target post-household plastic waste, including harder-to-recycle packs, like rigids, flexible and multi-layer ones.

The dissolution process used will combine the intellectual property and know-how of both companies, they added.

P&G will use the resulting post-consumer recycled (PCR) polymer in its packaging, with the  partnership beginning immediately and expected to run until commercialisation.

What is advanced recycling?

According to the website of sustainability charity WRAP, the non-mechanical recycling of plastics can be grouped into four categories:

  • Pyrolysis, the thermal breakdown of material without oxygen, which results in wax, oil and gas that can be sold or burned for energy;
  • Gasification, the partial combustion of material to produce carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2), which, again, can be burnt for energy, or used in the production of new hydrocarbons;
  • Dissolution, whereby polymers are dissolved in a selected solvent so the polymer can be separated from any contamination before being precipitated back out and reused as a polymer; and
  • Chemical depolymerisation, which is the use of chemicals to break down a polymer into its monomers or intermediate units, which can then be built back up into a virgin-like polymer for reuse.

P&G and Dow’s new partnership follows Dow’s 2023 launch of Surlyn CIR, created through chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste that would have otherwise gone to landfill or be incinerated.

At launch, Imran Munshi, Marketing Manager at Dow, told Cosmetics Business: “You’re reducing what would go into landfill or incineration, but you’re also reducing the cosmetic industry’s reliance on virgin fossil materials, and contributing towards the transition to a more circular future.”

The polymer is said to share all of the advantages of traditional Surlyn when it comes to aesthetic qualities, such as transparency, design freedom and the absence of any visible injection points. 

It also works with existing production processes.

Nor is this initiative P&G’s first collab with the aim of incorporating hard-to-recycle waste in its packaging. 

In 2021, it teamed up with materials specialist Eastman to use molecular recycled plastic in its packaging. 

Herbal Essences shampoos and conditioners in primary packaging made from 50% recycled plastic launched soon after.

Eastman’s polyester renewal technology uses materials that are typically incinerated because they cannot be mechanically recycled, or must be downcycled with existing technology.

The US company announced plans to open France’s largest molecular recycling facility in 2022, which is due for completion next year.

Beauty players embrace advanced recycling

Other beauty brand owners who’ve used Eastman’s molecular recycled polymers in their packaging include Estée Lauder Companies, LVMH, AmorePacific and Lumene.

But ELC last year announced it was also collaborating with South Korea’s SK chemicals to develop packaging made from materials from advanced recycling. 

SK chemicals’ process chemically decomposes waste plastic into monomers, the raw materials for plastic.

Under the agreement, SK chemicals supplies its Ecotria CR and Skypet CR materials – grades that include chemically recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) waste. 

The company also provides ELC with its Ecozen Claro copolyesters, which can be incorporated into a recycling stream.

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