One million plastic bottles are sold around the world each minute. Most are used for bottled water, and most end up in the trash. As demand for bottled water grows–particularly in China–so does the bottle problem. By 2021, humans will use an estimated half a trillion bottles plastic bottles a year.
Evian, the France-based mineral water brand, is part of the problem, though now it’s also working on a plan to address the challenge–but keep selling bottled water–through a new approach: By 2025, the company plans to become “circular,” using materials in a closed loop. It will work to increase dismal consumer recycling rates, and partner with a nonprofit that works on collecting ocean plastic. In a move that will likely have a more direct impact, all Evian bottles will also be made from 100% recycled plastic. On average, other bottled water companies use only around 6% to 7% recycled plastic today.
The shift hinges on new technology. The traditional process for recycling a plastic bottle–washing it, shredding it into tiny pieces, and melting it into resin–doesn’t work particularly well. New plastic made from the material is lower quality, and cloudy rather than clear. Bottled water companies have been reluctant to use it; it’s more likely that a recycled bottle will be made into fiber and used in a sweatshirt or pair of shoes.
Evian partnered with a Montreal-based startup called Loop Industries that recycles differently. “We actually don’t even consider ourselves recyclers,” says Daniel Solomita, founder and CEO of Loop Industries, which calls its product “sustainably produced resin.” Using a low-energy process with minimal heat and pressure, and a proprietary catalyst, the company “depolymerizes” waste plastic, turning it into the same base materials that are used in making virgin plastic.
Solomita explains the technology by thinking of plastic like a cake that can be magically broken down into its component ingredients. You can then reuse those ingredients for whatever you want, or even re-bake them into a new, equally good cake. “You take that chocolate cake and break it down into its individual ingredients–you take the milk, the eggs, the flour, and the chocolate, and you purify every one of those ingredients,” he says. “You take the egg and put it back in its shell. And then you build a brand-new cake out of it.”