Unilever and Alibaba are partnering for the Waste-Free World initiative to launch an AI-enabled closed-loop plastic recycling system in China.
Unilever has set a goal to cut its use of virgin plastic in half, cut plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tons and accelerate the use of recycled plastic by 2025.
Waste-Free World saw 20 recycling machines installed as part of a pilot program in offices and community spaces in Shanghai and Hangzhou.
The machines are reportedly equipped with state-of-the-art AI technology which automatically identifies different kinds of plastic bottle. Customers need to use Alipay, Alibaba’s e-wallet service, to scan the QR code displayed on the screen of the machine and then deposit the bottle into the recycling bin.
Consumers will earn Unilever coupons and green energy points on the Alipay "Ant Forest" for each bottle they deposit in the Waste-Free World machines.
Green energy points are awarded to consumers for low-carbon activities. Consumers collect them and then put them to use planting trees or protecting conservation land.
Vice president of the Alibaba Group, Jet Jing, said: “Alibaba is supporting Unilever to make it easier for Chinese consumers to embrace responsible consumption across our multiple cross-platforms, including Alipay, Tmall, Ele.me and Tmall Supermarket by creating a closed-loop scenario for plastic recycling that starts with its purchase, to usage to recycle and repurchase."
“We believe Waste-Free World, jointly launched with Alibaba Group, will become the ‘green engine’ of the circular economy for plastic packaging in China,” said Rohit Jawa, Unilever’s executive vice president of North Asia.