BP follows Total in quest to improve recyclability of petroleum-based products

By Olivia Konotey-Ahulu on 12/19/2019

LONDON (Bloomberg) - BP is the latest oil giant to announce it would join forces with companies across the plastic value chain to speed up efforts to improve recycling technology.

The London-based oil major formed a consortium with users and makers of packaging to accelerate the commercialization of methods to turn difficult-to-recycle plastic waste into components that are easy to reuse, according to a press release on Thursday. The move follows in the footsteps of a competitor Total SA, which announced last week that it would work alongside companies including Nestle SA and Mars Inc. to develop a nascent chemical-recycling industry in France.

“This is an exciting step towards a circular economy for the polyester industry,” Rita Griffin, chief operating officer of petrochemicals for BP, said in the statement. “But we know we cannot create circularity on our own.”

The cross-industry collaboration includes partners such as consumer goods producers Danone SA and Unilever NV, and recycling specialist ALPLA. Unilever has committed to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025.

BP has already been working on a technology called Infinia that could be used for polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is commonly used in products that are particularly difficult to recycle, such as plastic bottles for soft drinks. The company also said it has plans to build a $25 million pilot plant in the U.S. to test that the technology is commercially viable.

Currently, only 12% of the PET plastic bottles collected globally become new bottles again, even though more than 75% are recycled. The remainder is used for other applications that are usually disposed of after use, BP said.

At at a time when investment in technologies such as electric cars are starting to hit oil demand, petrochemicals used to make products including plastics are projected to become the greatest growth area for oil demand to 2040, according to BloombergNEF. However, there’s a growing movement against the proliferation of plastic waste that contaminates the world’s oceans and harms wildlife.

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