Daily life 8 min
Packaging in search of greater virtue
Although often singled out, plastic packaging is often more virtuous than we might think. Faced with the climate challenge, they are reinventing themselves. Here is an overview of the innovations already on the shelves.
Packaging in search of greater virtue
Packaging in search of greater virtue

Recycling, the way of the future for plastic packaging

Although eco-design allows plastic packaging to be made lighter and lighter and to reduce its carbon footprint, recycling will undoubtedly be the main driver for the ensuring the circularity and decarbonisation of plastic packaging. Currently, one third of plastic packaging in Europe is recycled. This figure is expected to improve significantly in the coming years, in particular thanks to the implementation of new recycling channels and new technologies. (see our article on chemical recycling).

Tomorrow has already begun

As an alternative to the use of fossil materials, the integration of recycled plastic in packaging is considered a priority and a major driver of innovation by manufacturers.

PET is one of the most widely-used plastics in packaging and has an efficient and well-functioning recycling chain. It is only logical that it should be found in its recycled form in many packaging products. Called rPET (for recycled PET), this material is suitable for contact with food and can be recycled.

All 50cl PET bottles of Coca-Cola with or without sugar, Coca-Cola light, Sprite and Fanta are now made from 100% recycled plastic (rPET). The brand has set itself a target for 2030: to achieve 100% recycled plastic in all the bottles in its portfolio, thus avoiding the consumption of more than 200,000 tonnes of virgin plastic currently used per year in Europe.


Recycled PET is one of the polymers that has received approval for contact with food. This is a boon to major manufacturers such as Coca Cola, which now produces bottles made from 100% recycled plastics.

In order to reduce its plastic consumption, the Bonduelle brand had removed the plastic lid from one of its salad ranges and used packaging made of 50% rPET. In 2020, it became the first player in the market to use an eco-designed bag made of 100% rPET for its ready-to-use organic green salads.  
As for Leerdammer, the world-famous Dutch cheese, it is now packaged in a tray made of 100% recyclable PET, 24% of which is made of recycled PET.

Back to the drawing board

Compared to virgin resins, mechanically recycled plastics will emit 3 to 17 times less CO2. These energy-efficient materials will require 3 to 9 times less energy to be produced. But the road to success is often full of pitfalls.
The case of opaque PET is an emblematic example of this.

Opaque PET has been used for a good ten years to make milk, oil and fabric softener bottles. Thanks to the mineral opacifier it contains, it protects products from light and extends their shelf life while requiring less material.


Until now, opaque PET, which is essential for protecting products from light, has been difficult to recycle and has been the subject of much research. The first milk bottles made from recycled PET are now on the shelves!.

The problem was that, because it was still a marginal presence on the market, it disrupted the well-oiled recycling process of coloured PET for sparkling water and soft drink bottles. Reducing the opacifier content was therefore essential. After three years of R&D, the amount of opacifier used was halved. At the same time, the sorting system was improved thanks to the implementation of an oversorting system to keep only the opaque bottles that had contained a food product. The first 100% recycled PET milk bottles are starting to appear. The only drawback is that after recycling, opaque PET turns slightly grey. This has no effect on its original properties, but it could disturb consumers. So, milk producers have decided to communicate extensively on these bottles by explaining why and how the bottles have been changed.

The infinite horizon

Chemical recycling is a promising technique for perfectly recycling polymers in an almost infinite loop, as an additional process to mechanical recycling. These relatively new processes are particularly suitable for meeting all the technical and sanitary constraints of the most demanding sectors, such as the beauty and food sectors.

One example among many: the American luxury brand Estée Lauder has joined forces with another American company, Eastman, which manufactures a polymer using its own chemical recycling technologies. This polymer is Tritan Renew, a new generation of Tritan copolyester previously developed by the chemicals company. The only difference is that Tritan Renew contains up to 50% chemically-recycled plastics. Adopted by Estée Lauder for the manufacture of some of its bottles, this copolyester offers the same aesthetic characteristics as its virgin counterpart. This means that the bottles retain their transparency and shine, two attributes that luxury brands require for their packaging. Chemically-recycled polyethylene or polypropylene also have applications in cosmetic packaging.

This time, Estée Lauder, through its high-end skincare brand Origins, partnered with Albéa and Saudi Arabia's Sabic to market a high-tech recycled tube in 2021.
Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask, Origins' best-selling mask, is packaged in a tube made by Albéa composed of a polymer resin derived from a polyethylene and polypropylene recycling technology developed by Sabic.

Credit photo: lorem ipsum

The Estée Lauder Group has partnered with Albéa to bring to market a tube of a polymer resin derived from SABIC's chemical recycling technology for polyethylene and polypropylene. 

Also in partnership with Sabic, Canada's Emballage St-Jean and Allied Bakeries announced a few months ago the launch of the world's first "bread bag" or bread packaging made from post-consumer recycled plastic. The polyethylene bread bag’s film incorporates 30% of Sabic's TRUCIRCLE™ PE certified resins produced via advanced recycling technologies.


Every year, polymer professionals invest millions to advance chemical recycling techniques. Things are speeding up and innovations are coming thick and fast.

The chain set up by France's L'Occitane and Albea, the UK's Plastic Energy and the US' LyondellBasell, illustrates the dynamism at work in the chemical recycling industry and its 'internationalism'. The first two have designed a tube and cap that contain 93% chemically-recycled polyethylene. Plastic Energy holds a patent that allows end-of-life plastics to be chemically transformed into a pyrolysis oil called Tacoil. From this oil, LyondellBasell manufactures a new polyethylene that can be fully recycled in turn.

Finally, to close the loop, a consortium of Carbios, L'Oréal, Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo and Suntory Beverage & Food Europe announced the successful production of the first food-grade PET bottles made entirely from enzymatically-recycled plastic, a world first.
Using the enzymatic PET recycling technology developed by Carbios, each member of the Consortium has successfully produced sample bottles for one of its flagship products, including Biotherm, Perrier, Pepsi Max and Orangina.
According to Carbios, the technique has the merit of being able to process all types of PET waste, regardless of quality or colour, and thus paves the way for “infinite recycling”.

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