Waste & packaging partnerships

Given the complexity of the issues surrounding packaging and the diverse stakeholders involved, we need to work in partnership to find viable solutions.

Our partnerships

With businesses in many parts of the world, it is important we understand the way waste management systems function at a local level. We are working with a range of partners to develop our understanding and identify effective solutions. Unilever is a founding member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, which has more than 160 members, including packaging producers, users and retailers. We are also members of EUROPEN (the European Organization for Packaging and the Environment).

We work in partnership with retailers and NGOs to explore ways of improving recycling infrastructure. We have supported the CEMPRE waste management and recycling initiative in Brazil since 1992, which works with the ‘waste picking’ community.

‘Waste picking’ – retrieving waste that can be sold for reuse or recycling – is common in the developing world. CEMPRE is a non-profit organisation that promotes recycling, raising awareness at government and NGO level and helping workers, usually the poor and disadvantaged, who are actually engaged in waste recovery. It advises local waste or rag pickers how to set up a co-operative and has published a ‘how-to’ kit. CEMPRE support allows vulnerable freelance pickers to form organised co-operatives that are well placed to sort, store and resell materials, reducing waste to landfill and dumps and improving workers’ lives.

In 2013, members of the Consumer Goods Forum will start a project to support the scale up of this approach in Brazil, working closely with CEMPRE. This aims to increase the range, quantity and quality of materials recovered by co-operatives and to support improvements to co-operative operations. The project will also identify opportunities to use a similar approach in other emerging markets. The success of the CEMPRE model has already led to it being launched in other countries, for example we are also working with TIMPSE in Thailand, a similar organisation to CEMPRE, to try to replicate the success of CEMPRE.

In Brazil, our brands Omo, Rexona, Knorr and AdeS continue to work in partnership with retailer Pão de Açúcar to encourage the recycling and recovery of packaging waste. Pão de Açúcar gives customers colour-coded plastic bags when they shop at the store to help sort and bring back their waste for recycling. All items collected are donated to co-operatives, who separate, bale and sell them, generating income for more than 1,000 people. See Reduce, reuse, recycle for more details.

Defining a common packaging language with The Consumer Goods Forum

As part of the sustainability programme of the Consumer Goods Forum, the CEOs of Unilever and Tesco established a joint industry group which developed a document called ‘Global language for packaging and sustainability – a framework and a measurement system for our industry’.

This document enables more efficient dialogue with companies along the value chain on ways to reduce the environmental impact of packaging, while preserving its many important functions.

The Consumer Goods Forum brings together the CEOs and senior management of more than 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries. Working collaboratively with these companies allows us to encourage change across the industry.

The project began in 2009 and in 2010, Unilever conducted three pilot studies in the UK and China to test the metrics. The results of these pilots have contributed significantly to the outcome of the project. In September 2011 the group completed its work by releasing its Global Protocol on Packaging Sustainability 2.0, which provides a framework and common language to discuss the role of packaging in sustainability. A glossary of commonly used sustainability terms was also published in 2012.

Our approach to packaging and recycling policy

For Unilever, working in partnership also means working with governments – at regional, national and local level – to ensure cost-effective and sustainable policy frameworks for packaging and recycling. This is important because governments are increasingly taking action to tackle the environmental impacts of packaging waste.

Some of these actions, such as eco-taxes or bans on particular packaging formats may not lead to higher recycling and recovery rates and could entail significant costs to business. In some cases they would prevent lower-income consumers from accessing the health and well-being benefits of our products. Designed appropriately, however, other actions have the potential to deliver higher recycling and recovery rates in a cost-effective way.

Unilever will evaluate proposed policies on their own merits, including how appropriate they are to a country’s context. In some countries, governments are developing policies and regulations intended to shift financial (and sometimes physical) responsibility for the end-of-life management of used products and packaging from the final end-user to the producer. These schemes are generally called extended producer responsibility (EPR). Where an EPR scheme is proposed, and appropriate to a country’s context, Unilever’s support for it will be conditional on its meeting a set of key criteria including being environmentally effective, cost-efficient, taking an integrated, shared approach and avoiding barriers to trade.

Working with others to address food waste

In 2012 we worked with a range of partners to better understand current consumer attitudes and behaviors around food and food waste, and the part we can play in influencing these. This involved hosting a series of roundtables with food waste experts including retailers, academics, public policy makers and local authorities. We partnered with think tank The Fabian Society to research consumer attitudes to food waste. This found that 53% of adults would waste less food if it could save them money and 28% would reduce food waste if it was easier to do so.

We worked with WRAP on their Love Food Hate Waste campaign and with Mumsnet to gather consumer feedback on food waste. We also ran employee workshops at our UK sites with WRAP.