Plastic bottles

The technology used a naturally occurring enzyme to break down PET plastics into their constituent parts, said Carbios

Some of the world’s best-known soft drinks will soon be poured into the first-ever “endlessly recyclable” plastic bottles – following a technological breakthrough by their owners. 

Suntory Beverage & Food Europe, Nestlé Waters and PepsiCo have all created prototype bottles made from the world’s first food-grade PET produced entirely from enzymatically recycled plastic.

The technology is the work of Consortium, a collaborative partnership that comprises the three drinks suppliers, L’Oréal and bio-industrial solutions company Carbios. It is plastic that is made via a process through which a mutant enzyme breaks down PET waste into chemicals. They are then recycled into high-quality new packaging.

It means brands such as Orangina, Perrier and Pepsi Max could soon be available in the UK in recycled bottles that are indistinguishable from virgin plastic.

The announcement is the culmination of nearly 10 years’ work by Carbios to “supercharge” a naturally occurring enzyme that normally breaks down leaf membranes of dead plants. By adapting the enzyme, Carbios has optimised it to break down any kind of PET, regardless of colour or complexity.

The consortium’s members now plan to work to scale the innovation to help meet global demand for sustainable packaging. In September, Carbios will break ground on a demonstration plant, before launching a 40,000 tonne-capacity industrial facility by 2025.

“We have proved the viability of the technology with the world’s leading brands,” said Carbios CEO Jean-Claude Lumaret. He hailed “a truly transformational innovation that could finally fully close the loop on PET plastic supply globally, so that it never becomes waste”.

Jean-Francois Briois, head of packaging material science & environmental sustainability at Nestlé Waters global R&D, added: “It is very exciting to see that the quality of the prototype bottles made from coloured recycled PET materials is virtually identical to clear virgin PET.”

Ron Khan, PepsiCo global VP of packaging, beverages, said Carbios’ enzymatic recycling, would “help keep valuable material in the circular economy”, while Suntory Beverage & Food Europe chief R&D officer Roberto Vanin claimed the technology “would be key” to the supplier achieving its aim to be using 100% sustainable plastic by 2030.