> SUSTAINABILITY > From Collaboration to the Successful Development of ‘Sunlight’ Gallons from High-quality Post-consumer Recycled Resin

From Collaboration to the Successful Development of ‘Sunlight’ Gallons from High-quality Post-consumer Recycled Resin

Publish On 16, Nov 2021 | From Collaboration to the Successful Development of ‘Sunlight’ Gallons from High-quality Post-consumer Recycled Resin


   Consumers have become more eco-conscious, as evident in their growing interest in being able to distinguish the different types of plastic in their households, so that they can sort and send them to recyclers, thereby contributing to the circular economy.


   As a consumer goods brand, Unilever strives to create a more sustainable world. As packaging is in sore need of transformation to become more eco-friendly, one of Unilever’s mission is to reduce the use of virgin plastic resin and increase the use of high-quality post-consumer recycled resin (high-quality PCR). It was this commitment that led Unilever to embark on a collaboration with SCG Chemicals, to develop innovative high-quality post-consumer HDPE for the production of eco-friendly household goods packaging that retains all the functional requirements.



   In this issue of All Around Plastics, we have been honored by Mr. Vivekanand Sistla, Regional R&D Director SEAA & Site Leader at Unilever, and Mr. Niwat Athiwattananont, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) – Polyolefins and Vinyl of SCG Chemicals, who sat down with us to discuss the successful development of Sunlight dishwashing liquid’s gallons using high-quality PCR under the SCG GREEN POLYMER™ brand.


Connecting Consumers to a Greener World


   Discussing Unilever’s commitment to the environment and sustainable development goals (SDGs), Sistla said, “Unilever has three plastic commitments. The first commitment is to make all packaging 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable. The next commitment is to reduce the amount of virgin plastic by 50% and increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic in our packaging. The last commitment is to collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell.”



   All of these commitments are consistent with the concept of circular economy, which is the guiding principle for SCG Chemicals and the products under the brand SCG GREEN POLYMER™, which seeks to develop eco-friendly products and services. As such, the two world-class brands began co-developing packaging made of high-quality PCR derived from used plastics in Thailand. “The starting point was our shared aim and intention to make a difference and achieve economic, social, and environmental sustainability,” said Niwat. And thus began the collaborative project to develop PCR packaging, starting with the gallon of Sunlight dishwashing liquid.


“The reason we chose to take on Sunlight’s HDPE gallons as our first project for local PCR in Thailand was because of Sunlight’s massive popularity in Thailand,” said Sistla. “We started off with the packaging of only one brand in order to learn, experiment with, and test our PCR first. Once it meets all the right specifications, we will then expand towards the packaging of our other brands.”



Challenges in the Development of PCR Gallons for ‘Sunlight’


   This collaborative project was an immense challenge for both organizations as high-quality PCR that met the requirements of the world-class brand was unavailable in Thailand and all Sunlight’s gallons had up to that point been made with imported PCR. It was thus a perfect opportunity for the two organizations to join hands and realize a full-fledged circular economy for the first time ever in Thailand.



   Regarding the required properties of the dishwashing liquid gallon, Sistla said, “First and foremost, the safety of the product is paramount because it comes into direct contact with consumers. Therefore, we had to study chemical migration, or the transfer of chemicals from the packaging into the product, which is an important issue with strict regulations. Because recycled plastic could contain contaminants that we cannot see, the material had to be tested by different testing teams around the world to ensure that chemicals did not leach into the product.”


“The second property concerns odor. Because PCR is derived from post-consumer plastic, we had to put in place measures and monitor to make sure no odor was transferred from the packaging to the product. We did this by leaving dishwashing liquid in our gallons for 3-6 months under different conditions to ensure that there was no odor reaction and that consumers would not detect any smell. SCG Chemicals overcame these two challenges with flying colors.”


“The next property is related to color. One of the limitations of PCR is that it is not pure white because it is derived from recycled plastics, which usually contain darker color materials. As this is something many consumers are not accustomed to, we need to make them understand that the color will not contaminate the product or compromise the quality in anyway. Thus, we began with Sunlight gallons, which were yellow. However, we have plans to produce packaging in every color, especially white, as it is neutral and the easiest color to recycle.


“The last property is rigidity. The gallon must be strong enough to undergo the filling process, which involves the use of high-speed and high-pressure machinery. In addition, it must be able to withstand damage and protect the product inside as well as accommodate different uses, so that customers can use the product safely and recycle the gallon.”


   These four properties have been successfully achieved thanks to the collaboration between Unilever and SCG Chemicals, resulting in high-quality PCR gallons for Sunlight, which have been certified by various testing centers in different countries. “This marks the beginning of the collaboration between the two organizations, and in the future, we will expand our packaging development projects towards other Unilever products, moving from home care to personal care products.”



Behind the Success of the PCR Development


   On the part of SCG Chemicals, Niwat recounted the entire development process, from material selection, research, experiment, all the way to the manufacturing of actual packaging.


“Our task began with exploring and sourcing used plastic packaging from households for use as raw materials for the production of PCR. All labels on the packaging were then removed to minimize contamination. Currently, our research and development team is working on plastic formulation and the application of latest technology to remove colored specks and contaminants that may have been made their way into the material. In the future, an odor removal system will also be installed to further enhance the quality of our PCR.”


   The main challenge for SCG Chemicals was to pass Unilever’s stringent assessments for the four requirements, which were directly relevant to consumers. “Our research team had already been working with various world-class companies. This collaborative product development with Unilever was a learning experience for both organizations. Our Application Development Center, which is part of the i2P Center, was able to conduct tests and adjust the formulation to successfully meet all the requirements of the client.”


“This collaboration brought together the expertise of SCG Chemicals and the capabilities of Unilever, resulting in PCR that met all the requirements, from molding and mechanical properties. In addition, it was tested not only in actual production to demonstrate that the quality remained constant over the long term but also in Unilever’s labs overseas to ensure that there was no heavy metal or other contaminant present. It can be said that we had a world-class company to help us prove the superior quality of our PCR.”



Success through Effective Collaboration


   Niwat told us how he was thoroughly impressed throughout this collaboration. “Unilever is an organization with deep environmental commitment. After the declaration of intent and once we started developing this project with them, we got to witness their commitment and determination to succeed. Also, once the collaboration began, we were given regular feedback, which enabled researchers to make constant progress, as well as clearly defined criteria and requirements, which allowed us to develop a product that accurately catered to their needs.”


   Unilever was also impressed by the vision and the collaboration with SCG Chemicals. “We could see that SCG Chemicals focused on building environmental awareness in consumers by providing knowledge on waste separation and recycling to schools and various agencies, which would help to foster a better understanding among new generations of consumers. As for the collaboration, it was a pleasure working with SCG Chemicals and their team. This is a very promising beginning for the company as Thailand’s first-ever producer of high-quality PCR.”


“Throughout the development of this product, we were faced with various challenges, but thanks to our close collaboration, we were able to overcome them and developed a product that truly answered to consumer needs. However, it is impossible for a handful of companies to realize a circular economy in Thailand. It takes the cooperation of all sectors to create a long-lasting and far-reaching ripple effect. Ultimately, we hope that this collaboration will be the first important step in creating a sustainable circular economy in Thailand,” concluded Sistla.

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