Four new ways we’re rethinking our plastic packaging
With ambitious plans to transform the use of plastic and cut waste in our packaging, here are some recent innovations that are helping us make progress towards a truly circular economy.
In October 2019, we announced bold commitments to halve the use of virgin plastic in our packaging and remove more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic entirely by 2025.
Our aim is to ensure that all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable, and we’re working hard to continue to innovate, test, learn and deploy new ways of delivering against our commitments.
And we’re making progress. We’ve significantly stepped up our use of post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR). We’re using more alternative materials, such as paper-based ice cream tubs. And our dedicated teams are working on novel reusable/refillable formats, with pilot projects now running all over the world.
As Pablo Costa, VP Science & Technology, Packaging, says: “Unilever’s commitments towards creating a sustainable world are powered by our innovations that include rethinking our plastic packaging. We’re doing this by using ‘Less Plastic. Better Plastic. No Plastic’. This framework guides our thinking and continues to gather momentum as we accelerate our transition towards a circular economy. We remain more committed than ever to close the loop on plastic.”
The pumps on the top of bottles often can’t be recycled because they include several different materials such as metal springs, foam gaskets and various types of plastic that are hard to separate.
Love Beauty and Planet has overcome that problem with a revolutionary new design – one that’s taken several months of testing and perfecting. It’s made with just one type of plastic, so it’s designed to be much easier to recycle.
Black plastic is also hard to recycle because automatic optical sorting machines are unable to ‘see’ it. This leads to the item being rejected and sent for waste. The brand overcame this problem by using detectable black pigments in the pumps so that recycling machines have an easier time reading.
Love Beauty and Planet launched this new pump at the beginning of the year with plans to roll it out further across all pump packs. It is now taking the next step and working on how to make them from recycled plastic.
Unilever’s commitments towards creating a sustainable world are powered by our innovations that include rethinking our plastic packaging.Pablo Costa, VP Science & Technology, Packaging
Our Lipton brand has started a programme to make all its tea bags globally from plant-based materials. This means they will be fully renewable and compostable, going back to nature where they came from, thereby reducing our environmental impact.
Right now, 17 billion plant-based tea bags have already rolled off the production line. Lipton has an ambition to make 30 billion tea bags using fully plant-based material by the end of 2021, and our aim is that all our 45 billion teabags will be plant based by 2023.
In Europe, as well as making its tea bags compostable, Lipton is producing packaging that’s fully recyclable by completely removing the plastic overwrap on its cartons. All this represents a reduction of 1,000 tonnes of plastic every year.
Many products are packaged in flexible plastic pouches. These are used for a variety of reasons. For instance, they tend to be lighter than hard plastic containers, which means they have less environmental impact when being transported from factory to store.
These pouches are typically made up of thin layers of several types of plastic, which perform different functions. One could be to prevent moisture permeating the pack, another could be to print important product information. But these layers are difficult to separate, and each one usually requires a different type of process to recycle them. For these reasons, traditional pouch packs most likely end up in landfill.
In Latin America, we worked with film supplier Inapel to develop a new type of pouch for Knorr which is made using three layers of the same polypropylene (PP) material. This means they are much easier to recycle and, in the future, can become a flexible PP film or a rigid plastic application.
In Europe, we worked with packaging company Amcor to create one of the first recyclable stand-up pouches in the market. We’ve launched it initially for our Sun all-in-one dishwasher tablets in four markets. Previously these tablets were sold in pouches that protect the product but are not recyclable.
At the beginning of 2020, Hellmann’s introduced 100% recycled and recyclable plastic jars and bottles in North America. This marked another major milestone on the brand’s journey to exit virgin plastic, following on from their initial launch in Mexico.
Hellmann’s is the first dressings brand to make the switch in the US and is leading industry change in Canada as the first to transition to PCR packaging. This move will cut our use of virgin plastic, per year, by around 13,000 tonnes in the US and Canada.
Although the pandemic has led to shortages of recycled materials, this transformation continues as we introduce 100% recycled bottles across Europe this year. By the end of 2022, our ambition is that all Hellmann’s mayonnaise jars and squeeze bottles – globally – will be 100% recyclable and made using recycled plastic.