Empty sachets are generally considered not worth collecting because they are small and lightweight so they lack value. Our ambition is to develop a viable business model for sachet waste which continues to provide the price and convenience benefits of sachets to low-income consumers while tackling the environmental issues associated with their use, such as litter and lack of recyclability.
In our 2011 Progress Report we shared the results of our trials using pyrolysis – the recovery of energy from sachet waste. We proved that the resulting fuel was of high enough quality for our Hindustan Unilever factory. To make the oil useable and profitable we have been working with our supplier in India to set up a distillation column. Scale-up is proving a challenge and we continue to seek solutions to take this technology forward.
In 2012, we identified a new technology which we believe is the next generation to pyrolysis. Small-scale trials have shown a high yield and superior quality end product. We are currently in negotiations with the developer and other value chain partners with the aim of commissioning the first commercial plant in Indonesia during 2013.
More on pyrolysis
Pyrolysis turns sachet material into fuel and recovers up to 60% of its embedded energy. In 2009 we conducted a study in Asia that confirmed that pyrolysis could offer an effective technological approach to dealing with sachet waste, recovering much of the energy used in the manufacture of the material and offering a practical solution to the problem of sachet litter. In 2010 we conducted assessments of various waste to energy options to determine commercial viability and concluded that pyrolysis was the most promising option.
Our pyrolysis pilot project provided encouraging results. We demonstrated ‘technical proof of principle’ of turning sachets, pouches and other flexible plastic waste into fuel oil at a viable cost. The plastic is put through a reactor where it turns first into a molten state and then a vapour. It is then condensed and stored in tanks and used as a fuel oil. Our Hindustan Unilever factory in Pondicherry, India, has successfully used the fuel extracted to power its plant.
One of the biggest barriers to turning pyrolysis or next generation technology into a business opportunity for reprocesses is taking collection of sachet waste to scale. We have engaged NGOs in India to assist us and we plan to test different approaches in 2013.
We are exploring how to incentivise sachet collection on a large scale. This will require us to work in partnership with other users of flexible plastic waste as well as with municipal authorities and those representing collectors of recyclable waste to develop an economically viable, effective and sustainable solution.