Waste & packaging

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
  • Partnership For The Goals

Rethinking plastic packaging – towards a circular economy

We want to help build a circular economy in which we not only use less plastic, but also ensure the plastic we do use can be reused, recycled or composted.

recycling plastics in brazil

Plastic packaging: a growing problem

Reduce, re-use, recycle

Of plastic packaging worldwide is currently recycled

Every minute the equivalent of one rubbish truck of plastic leaks into streams and rivers, ultimately ending up in the ocean. An estimated 100 million marine animals die each year due to discarded plastic. And the problem is set to get worse. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report on the New Plastics Economy (PDF - 1.3MB) estimates that by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

It is clear that urgent action is needed on multiple fronts. One area of direct concern for Unilever is the fact that just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, and only 9% is actually recycled.1 Meanwhile, a third is left in fragile ecosystems, and 40% ends up in landfill.

So, how did we end up here? Cheap, flexible and multipurpose plastic has become the ubiquitous material of today’s fast-moving economy. Modern society – and our business – relies on it.

But the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption means that products get manufactured, bought, used once or twice for the purpose they were made, and then thrown away. Most packaging rarely gets a second use. As a consumer goods company, we’re acutely aware of the causes and consequences of this linear model. And we want to change it.

Moving to a circular economy approach

Moving away from the ‘take-make-dispose’ model is key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SDG 12), specifically target 12.5 on substantially reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Moving to a circular economy also contributes to achieving SDG 14, Life on Water, through target 14.1 on preventing and reducing marine pollution of all kinds.

And from a purely economic perspective, discarding plastic makes zero sense. According to the World Economic Forum, plastic packaging waste represents an $80–120 billion loss to the global economy every year. A more circular approach is needed, where we not only use less packaging, but design the packaging we do use so it can be reused, recycled or composted.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. This means that materials constantly flow around a ‘closed loop’ system, rather than being used once and then discarded. As a result, the value of materials, including plastics, is not lost by being thrown away.

As a consumer goods company, we have a clear responsibility to play our part. And the benefits of the circular economy for business are clear. More effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste. It means new sources of value for customers and citizens, better risk management of raw materials, and improved approaches to the supply chain.

Transforming our use of plastic packaging by 2025

Plastic bottles

Of our plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025

Decoupling our growth from our environmental impact is at the heart of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan targets to reduce the weight of our packaging by one third by 2020 and halving the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020.

Since 2010, our total waste footprint per consumer use has reduced by 31%. We have successfully decoupled the amount of packaging we purchase from our business growth. However we want, and need, to go further in leading the way towards a circular economy for all our packaging materials – especially plastic.

In January 2017, we committed to ensuring that 100% of our plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To help create an end market for this material, we also committed to increase the recycled plastic content in our packaging to at least 25% by 2025.

In October 2019, we announced two new goals to complement the 2017 commitment. These are, by 2025, to:

  • Halve the amount of virgin plastic we use in our packaging
  • Help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell

We are moving away from using single-use plastic packaging – that is, plastic made to be used only once. We have adopted an internal framework which is shaping our thinking and future innovation: less plastic, better plastic, and no plastic.

We are among a growing number of brands, retailers and packaging companies to make plastic packaging commitments. But more needs to be done to make reusable, recyclable and compostable plastic normal. That begins by making it technically possible for all our plastic packaging to be reused or recycled – but it also means demonstrating that there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material.

We’re embedding circular thinking

We're concentrating on five broad, interdependent areas to create a circular economy for plastic packaging:

  1. Rethinking how we design our products, so we use less plastic, better plastic, or no plastic: using our Design for Recyclability guidelines that we launched in 2014 and revised in 2017, we’re exploring areas such as modular packaging, design for disassembly and reassembly, wider use of refills, recycling and using post-consumer recycled materials in innovative ways.
  2. Driving systemic change in circular thinking at an industry level: such as through our work with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, including the New Plastics Economy.
  3. Working with governments to create an environment that enables the creation of a circular economy, including the necessary infrastructure to collect and recycle materials.
  4. Working with consumers in areas such as recycling – to ensure different disposal methods are clear (eg recycling labels in the US) – and collection facilities (eg Waste Bank in Indonesia).
  5. Exploring radical and innovative approaches to circular economy thinking through new business models.

Exploring new business models

We are determined to reduce our use of single-use plastics by investing in alternative models of consumption which focus on refills and reusable packaging. Our internal framework recognises the importance of recycling but we know it’s not the only solution. In some cases, “no plastic” may be the best solution – and this is one of the most exciting parts of our strategy for plastic.

As a business we have already conducted a number of dispensing trials with our retail partners, however, we are still working to overcome some of the key barriers linked to consumer behaviour, commercial viability and scale. In France for example, we are piloting a laundry detergent dispensing machine in supermarkets for our Skip and Persil laundry brands to eliminate single-use plastic.

We're exploring alternative materials such as aluminium, paper and glass. When we substitute one material for another, we want to minimise any unintended consequences, so we conduct lifecycle assessments to work out the environmental impact of our choices. We're looking at new packaging formats and alternative models of consumption, such as introducing cardboard packaging for deodorant sticks.


New deodorants 2019

Loop™: a new shopping system that’s circular by design

In January 2019, we announced our participation in Loop™ – an innovative waste-free shopping and delivery model for reusable packaging innovations and refillable product formats. Products are shipped directly to consumers and are then returned and refilled. The system brings together major brands and retailers with the idea of shifting from a model that is ‘disposable’ (where packaging is thrown away or recycled after use) to one that is ‘durable’ (where packaging is reused and any leftover product is either recycled or reused).

Nine of our brands are participating in the pilot in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in the US and in Paris, France: Axe, Dove, Hellmann’s, Love Beauty and Planet, Love Home and Planet, REN Clean Skincare, Rexona, Seventh Generation and Signal. Dove, Rexona and Axe will test a premium, refillable deodorant stick called minim™. Made from stainless steel, the design is minimal, compact and sustainable. Depending on use, the product will last on average one month, with the packaging designed to last at least 100 cycles, around eight years in total.

Our other new format – from Signal – is refillable toothpaste tablets, which require less water than normal toothpaste, but are designed to be used in the same way. You chew, brush as usual and rinse. They come in a recyclable, refillable jar which means there’s no packaging or product waste.

Loop™ is the result of a coalition of large companies including other manufacturers, as well as the retailer Carrefour, courier UPS and resource management company SUEZ, along with TerraCycle, a leader in recycling. All partners have the same goal: to develop supply chains that are more ‘circular’ from design through to consumer use. The materials differ for each product, but most use glass or aluminium and all are fully recyclable. The initial lifecycle analysis (LCA) showed that Loop™ has the potential to substantially reduce consumer waste and GHG emissions and we will use the pilot to update the LCA.

We believe Loop™ will complement our existing efforts to create a packaging system that is truly circular by design. We can’t create a circular economy for consumer goods in isolation. No business can. That’s why partnerships like Loop™ are important.

To deliver the necessary change, at scale, we must work with others on a complete transformation of how we think, use and dispose of packaging, and build new supply chains which support refill and reuse systems. This means working together to test new business models which require a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour and in the way we deliver goods in-store and via e-commerce channels.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Rethinking how we design our packaging

Sometimes a new design or a whole new way of packaging products is the best way to reduce our impact. We focus our packaging efforts in three areas: reducing our use of materials, using more recycled content and ensuring our packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable. And when it comes to plastic, we’re looking at where we can use less plastic, where we can use better plastic – and where we can use no plastic at all.

In October 2019, we made a commitment to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025. More than 100,000 tonnes of this will come from an absolute reduction as we invest in multiple use packs (such as reusable and refillable formats, and new business models) and ‘no plastic’ solutions (which includes alternative packaging materials and naked products), and a reduction in the amount of plastic in existing packs (for example, through concentration).



Reduction by redesign: using less packaging

While we look for ways to develop completely new packaging solutions, we're also focusing on using lighter, stronger and better materials which have a lower environmental impact.

We aim to optimise materials each time we redesign our packaging or develop concentrated or compressed versions of our products. It can take significant investment and ingenuity to reduce the amount of material in a pack, even by just one gram. However, the return on investment is worth it when our innovations successfully reduce the packaging and waste impact in our value chain, result in material cost savings and are more attractive to our consumers.

We’re collaborating with suppliers, academics, start-ups and other organisations to develop new technologies. This ensures a constant flow of innovative solutions to help us achieve our targets. Recent innovations to optimise our packaging include:

  • During 2018 we launched a three litre bottle for our Omo laundry detergent brand in Brazil, with a formula at six times the concentration of the original, so it can be diluted in people’s homes. This has reduced the volume of plastic used by 75%.

  • Combining the technology of a thinner polyethylene layer with a stronger polymer and smart polyethylene design in our Home Care brands' flexible packaging, such as sachets and pouches, meant we could reduce polymer use by 1,400 tonnes in 2017.

  • Innovations such as the foamed plastic layer in the middle of plastic bottle walls using MuCell™ technology – which we developed in collaboration with MuCell and Alpla in 2014 – reduced plastic use by up to 15% per bottle. In 2017, we launched our Dove hand wash bottles with MuCell™ technology, avoiding the use of 304 tonnes of plastic.

  • Lightweighting initiatives in our skin care product packaging across Vaseline, Dove, Pond's, St. Ives and Simple among others, reduced plastic content by around 1,100 tonnes in 2018. Lightweighting projects have led to us avoiding the use of more than 1,000 tonnes in our hair product packaging – including Dove and TRESemmé – in Brazil and Argentina during 2018.

  • In China, as in most countries, the majority of ice cream cartons are laminated to survive freezer temperatures. This means that the cartons have a low recycling rate. So, we worked with an ink supplier and carton converter to develop a matt UV varnish to replace the film. This could cut packaging waste in China by around 300 tonnes per year.

  • In Israel, we removed the aluminium wrappers around the individual Crembo ice creams in the eight-pack. Additionally, we optimised the rest of the packaging. In total, this has cut the need for over 13 tonnes of aluminium, around three tonnes of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), over one tonne of polypropylene (PP) and over three tonnes of paper through this single product.

Refills also visibly reduce the volume of plastic used in our packaging, and have the added benefit of being more affordable for people. We’ve been selling refills since 2012.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Responsible Consumption and Production)

Using more recycled materials in our plastic bottles

As we seek to use 'better plastic', using recycled materials in our plastic bottles – which we began in 2013 – is key. In 2017, we committed to increase the recycled plastic content in our packaging to at least 25% by 2025.

In 2018, we used around 4,845 tonnes of post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic in our packaging, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) in our plastic bottles. We expect our use of PCR materials to accelerate rapidly over the next few years as the design processes begin to deliver at scale. This will help us achieve our global commitment to include at least 25% recycled content in our plastic packaging by 2025.

We took some big steps forward in 2018, introducing post-consumer recycled waste materials into more of our products. For example, we launched our REN Clean Skincare packaging with 100% recycled PET (rPET) bottles. Working with TerraCycle, a US recycling company, we created the bottles from 80% recycled plastic bottles, and 20% reclaimed ocean plastic. In 2018, we also launched 100% rPET packaging for our Sunlight hand dish wash bottles in South Africa, Vietnam and Thailand, Comfort Intense in the UK and in our CIF Naturals bottles in France.

According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, the Pacific Ocean contains more plastic than plankton. That’s why in Australia and New Zealand, we launched Omo’s EcoActive laundry detergent in 2018 with bottles made from 25% rPET, which is sourced in Australia. Through using rPET, Omo EcoActive is predicted to save the equivalent of 7 million tonnes of single-use plastic bags from entering the environment each year.


Beauty & Planet body wash

Love Beauty & Planet

Our Love Beauty and Planet range – launched in 2018 – has put packaging at the centre of its consumer proposition. Its packaging is made from 100% recycled PET (rPET) and is also 100% recyclable. A special adhesive makes it easier to remove labels cleanly at the recycling facility.

The caps and pumps are not yet made from recycled content but we have a commitment to use at least 50% recycled plastic in pumps and caps by 2020. The brand also contributes $40 per tonne of carbon to a carbon tax fund which helps to reduce carbon emissions, and to fund initiatives that encourage higher recycling rates and set up recycling communities.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goal

  • Responsible Consumption and Production)

Developing a market for post-consumer recycled materials

We want to use far more PCR plastic in the future and recapture our own packaging. Closing the loop on plastic packaging, so that used packaging is viewed as a valuable resource rather than thrown away, is a major opportunity – and a major challenge. Factors such as low crude oil prices, limited availability of high-quality recycled waste materials (owing to a high demand on the market) and legislation on food contact, remain a big challenge for us in many of our markets around the world, making progress more difficult.

To address these challenges, we must be both innovative and collaborative. That ranges from ensuring we use recyclable materials at the outset and making them recyclable after use, to tackling wider infrastructural issues such as local collection and sorting facilities and building the technical and commercial viability of reprocessing them at scale.

In October 2019, we made a commitment to help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell, by 2025. We aim to do that through a three-pronged approach: direct investment and partnerships in waste collection and processing; purchasing and using recycled plastics in our packaging; and participating in voluntary or mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes where we directly pay for the collection of our packaging.

Greater manufacturer demand for PCR materials will produce an increasingly attractive business case for re-processing services. It will also act as a catalyst to increase the collection and reprocessing of materials.

Like many emerging countries, Brazil is still developing its waste collection infrastructure. This is essential to produce good quality PCR plastic, which feeds back into the manufacturing process, thus 'closing the loop' and creating a circular economy for plastic packaging. To achieve our target of increasing the recycled plastic material content in our packaging to 25%, we need lots of PCR. So, in places like Brazil, where collection and recycling are still being developed, we need to support it. And that's exactly what we've been doing with a local recycler called Wise.

Back in 2016, we realised that our requirement for PCR far outstripped what was available and even that was not of a high enough quality. To obtain the quantity – and quality – we needed, we had to help increase the supply. Wise is a specialist supplier of recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the most common plastic used in our Home Care and Beauty & Personal Care bottles.

When using PCR to make packaging, it needs to be high quality – a premium resin – otherwise, the new plastic could have an odd smell, look unsightly or even contaminate the product inside.

To ensure they could supply us with the right quality of resin, Wise adapted its production process, supported by our technical support and expertise. This new collaboration has boosted our PCR implementation in Brazil. In 2018 we launched Sunsilk's tri-layer bottle, Seda Pretos Luminosos. This is our first bottle produced in the country which contains over 30% PCR.

Our ultimate aim is to increase the demand for recycled plastic which will, in turn, increase recycling rates. But we’re not driving this alone. Last year, we joined Plastic Network – managed by ABIPLAST, the plastic industry association – which is focused on increasing recycling rates. This includes resin manufacturers, converters, recyclers, consumer goods companies and cooperatives of waste pickers.

Transforming the plastic economy through innovation

Sanjeev Das

Sanjeev Das, Packaging Director for Foods & Refreshment

“PET [polyethylene terephthalate] is everywhere in the modern world. At Unilever, we use it in bottles for dressings, beverages, and in home and personal care products. Elsewhere, it can be found in anything from food packaging trays to textiles and insulation padding in clothing.

But only 14% gets to recycling plants. The rest is either incinerated, disposed of in landfills, or is leaking into nature.

And we want to change that.

Start-up technology tackling the challenges

The main reason PET isn't recycled is because of the lack of infrastructure to collect and sort through discarded plastic. There are also technical issues – recycling coloured or contaminated plastic has proved extremely challenging. Until now, that is.

We’ve been working with Ioniqa, a start-up company in the Netherlands. They've developed a technology that uses a patented magnetic catalyst to break PET down to molecular level – so back to the original building blocks. That means we can take any type of PET waste, then break it down to remove colour and impurities. We can then turn it back into pure, clean, transparent PET plastic that’s food-grade ready. And the beauty of it is that this can be repeated over and over again.

Making plastic waste valuable

It’s a real circular economy approach. The process brings value to PET waste, returning it to the economy as a valuable resource. That in turn incentivises plastic collection.

The next step to scale this technology is underway, with Ioniqa setting up a 10,000 tonne capacity plant in the Netherlands. Then they’ll start supplying to Indorama, the world’s largest maker of PET resin. They will convert this Ioniqa product into PET resin to be used in our packaging by late 2019.

We believe this technology has the potential to revolutionise plastic recycling. So we want to share what we’re doing with other companies who, like us, are keen to see an end to plastic waste.”

Recycling black plastic & rethinking flexible packaging through industry partnerships

We are working with masterbatch (a system to add colours and additives to polymers) suppliers in Europe so that the black plastic used by our brands can be recycled. Black plastic is generally not recycled because imperfections are not detectable in recycling facilities. So we are aiming to develop detectable black plastic with masterbatch suppliers, so black plastic is both recycled and recyclable.

In 2016, Unilever joined an initiative called CEFLEX, a consortium of around 60 European companies, organisations and associations across the entire value chain of flexible packaging including: raw materials suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners and retailers, producer responsibility organisations, collectors, sorters and recyclers, as well as other technology suppliers and potential end users of the secondary raw materials.

CEFLEX continues the work of the projects FIACE (EU) and REFLEX (UK) which both sought to quantify the added value of flexible packaging and identify opportunities to increase recycling. Its mission is to make flexible packaging more relevant to the circular economy by advancing better system design solutions. By 2020, it aims to develop robust ‘Design for a Circular Economy’ guidelines for both flexible packaging and the infrastructure to collect, sort and recycle. And by 2025, it aims to develop a collection, sorting and reprocessing infrastructure for post-consumer flexible packaging across Europe.


Solvolysis factory

Closing the loop on sachet waste

A technological breakthrough and a multi-stakeholder effort to increase recycling – this is the kind of combined approach that we believe will make the circular economy a reality. And we're putting it into practice in Indonesia to tackle one of the most urgent waste issues – multi-layer sachets. Sachets are a type of flexible plastic packaging. They give people on low incomes a convenient and affordable way to buy anything from shampoo to food and toothpaste – creating less waste per millilitre of product than bottles. But despite the benefits, they also pose a serious waste challenge.

In developing markets, where sachets are most popular, infrastructure for collection is often limited and leftover sachets can end up in landfill, or litter the streets, waterways and oceans. But, since 2011, we've been working with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV on CreaSolv® Recycling technology which allows us to recycle multi-layered plastic sachets.

CreaSolv® Sachet Recycling technology is a breakthrough process that produces safe, high-quality polymers for use again and again – including in our non-food packaging sachets. It enables us to recover six kilos of pure polymers with the same energy effort as the production of one kilo of virgin polymer, reducing the CO2 footprint of sachets.

Our pilot plant in Indonesia, opened in 2018, is the only facility in the world where this technology is being used to recycle sachets. It can process three tonnes of material a day. Once we've proved the technical and commercial viability of the technology, our ambition is to start discussions with investors and other interested parties to develop a full-scale commercial plant, capable of processing around 30 tonnes of material a day.

The sachets we plan to recycle won’t just be ours – they will be a mix of all the sachets discarded by consumers, whether made by us or by our competitors. And the recycled resin we produce can be used by anyone, not just Unilever. Alongside an infrastructure for collecting and processing sachets – which we are also working on with other municipal governments – CreaSolv® Recycling technology offers the potential for a circular economy model and is a win-win for business and the environment.

We hope that CreaSolv® Recycling technology will transform sachets from a global problem into a sustainable economic opportunity.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • Life Below Water)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Working with consumers to promote recycling

Collecting and sorting recyclable materials plays an important part in ensuring they can be reused. That means consumers have a vital role in the circular economy. Our aim is to promote recycling among consumers, raise awareness at government and NGO level, and help workers economically. We have a number of projects which encourage people to recycle more and help to make recycling a lifelong habit.

In Brazil, for example, we work with Consumer Goods Forum companies and NGO CEMPRE to increase the types of materials recycled, drop-off points for used packaging, and co-operatives to sort materials. Our partner, Brazilian retailer Pão de Açúcar, has drop-off points in their stores where consumers can bring used packaging, and our brands engage with consumers to encourage recycling. This initiative has collected over 117,000 tonnes of material since the programme began 17 years ago. In 2018, we supported 94 recycling stations across 27 cities, and 21 co-operatives that generate income (directly and indirectly) for over 3,170 people.

Incentivising behaviour change is a big part of inspiring lifelong recycling habits. That’s why, in Argentina, we have started a partnership with the Buenos Aires City Government and retailers in the area to increase the volume of recycled material available to packaging producers. Consumers are offered discount benefits to encourage them to bring their waste packaging to government recycling points.


Waste Bank programme in Indonesia

Community Waste Bank Programme in Indonesia

In some countries, waste can be an opportunity for enhancing livelihoods, with many informal but highly-organised networks collecting waste for recycling. In Indonesia, our Community Waste Bank Programme is designed to empower communities to manage their domestic waste.

Through our Unilever Indonesia Foundation, we’ve helped communities in 18 cities to develop a system where they can collect and sell inorganic waste. The money received is saved within the community waste bank and can be cashed in over time. The system works like a regular bank, except that waste is deposited instead of money.

In 2018, 2,816 community waste banks with over 429,000 members collected 7,779 tonnes of packaging waste, worth 10.49 billion IDR. Since 2012, the waste banks have collected a total of 25,672 tonnes of packaging waste, worth 33.93 billion IDR. In 2018, the programme began a flexible waste pilot and opened a waste transfer station in East Java, and also collected pouches through 100 dropbox points in Jakarta and the surrounding area.

This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production)
  • Life Below Water)
  • Partnership For The Goals)

Making plastic packaging recyclable or compostable

Better plastics are also ones that cause fewer problems after their use. In 2017, we made a commitment to ensure that 100% of our plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Again, we're making progress. In Chile, for example, we have moved from using a non-recyclable folding carton across three detergent brands – Omo, Drive and Rinso – to a 100% polyethylene (HDPE) bag which is recyclable, saving 1,634 tonnes a year. And our Seventh Generation brand is eliminating virgin petroleum (new plastic made from oil) and virgin fibre (virgin wood pulp) from its packs, and has committed that all its packaging will be fully recyclable or compostable by 2020. Currently over 90% of our Seventh Generation brand packaging is recyclable.

Brewing up breakthroughs with biodegradable tea bags

As we continue to look for ways to achieve our target, we have found a way to use a plant-based material for tea bags derived from renewable sources such as corn starch, which can be industrially composted.

Our Saga brand in Poland, Red Rose in Canada, and SariMelati and SariMurni teas in Indonesia have adapted their manufacturing process to use plant-based materials.

Driving systemic change in circular thinking at an industry level

By committing to ambitious circular economy goals for plastic packaging, Unilever is contributing to tangible system change and sending a strong signal to the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry. Combining upstream measures on design and materials with post-use strategies demonstrates the system-wide approach that is required to turn the New Plastics Economy into reality.

Dame Ellen MacArthur

The movement to a circular economy approach for plastics requires change across more than just our industry. We need more circular thinking as a business and we have to work with others; we cannot do this alone. We're collaborating with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and their New Plastics Economy initiative, by committing to publish the full ‘palette’ of plastics materials that we use in our packaging. Focusing on the three themes of recycling, reuse and recyclability, the New Plastics Economy represents systems-level change, and working with others in the plastic packaging sector is critical to its success.

A call to action

At Davos 2018, Unilever announced four key actions the consumer goods industry should take to create the systemic change required and accelerate the transition to a circular economy. We called:

  1. For companies to invest in innovation towards new delivery models that promote reuse.
  2. For more companies to commit to 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 and set stretching targets for using post-consumer recycled content.
  3. For a Global Plastics Protocol (refer to Global Commitment below) setting commonly agreed definitions and industry standards on what materials are put into the marketplace, to ensure our packaging is compatible with existing and cost-effective recycling infrastructures.
  4. For companies to engage positively in policy discussions with governments on the need for improvements to waste management infrastructure, including the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.

Eradicating plastic waste & pollution at source: the Global Commitment

We're working hard to address our impacts, but no business can create a circular economy for plastic packaging in isolation. So in October 2018, we joined around 250 packaging producers, brands, retailers and recyclers, governments and NGOs in signing the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment to eradicate plastic waste and pollution at the source.

The Global Commitment, which is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and in collaboration with UN Environment, commits all signatories to three actions:

  • Eliminate problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging and move from single-use to reuse packaging models

  • Innovate to ensure 100% of plastic packaging can be easily and safely reused, recycled, or composted by 2025

  • Circulate the plastic produced, by significantly increasing the amounts of plastic reused or recycled and made into new packaging or products.

The Global Commitment aims to create ‘a new normal’ for plastic packaging. More than 15 financial institutions, with in excess of $2.5 trillion in assets under management, have endorsed the Global Commitment.

Investment fund to combat ocean plastic

In October 2018 at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali, we announced our participation in The Ocean Fund. Managed by Circulate Capital, this cross-value chain investment fund is designed to accelerate the growth of waste collection and waste management in South and South-east Asia. The majority of ocean plastic originates in this part of the world where both infrastructure and investment are limited, so the fund will begin its investment in India and Indonesia.

Unilever, PepsiCo, Proctor & Gamble, Dow Chemical Company, Danone and Coca-Cola have joined forces to invest USD $100 million in the fund. The Fund aims to remove access to capital as a barrier to waste management development, recycling infrastructure and to support innovative solutions to the problem of ocean plastics.

The Fund is being formed as a social and environmental impact investment fund for the primary purpose of reducing pollution and ocean plastic, and combating environmental deterioration by providing risk-tolerant financing and related assistance to investments designed to: (i) improve waste management and collection; (ii) improve sorting, processing and end-markets for recycling; (iii) increase demand for products made from recycled material; (iv) grow existing markets and create new markets for recycled material; and (v) prevent plastic waste and advance the circular economy.

Working with governments

We cannot succeed alone. There are many elements which are outside our control, such as selective collection of packaging waste, little or no infrastructure and limited investment in the waste industry. To move to a more circular economy approach we need to fundamentally rethink the way we design our products and packaging. This means carefully considering the systems in which our products flow – and working with national governments to develop waste infrastructure.

We’re doing just this to develop policies and frameworks that facilitate this fundamental shift, including the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.

Bold action across the value chain

New business models and innovations, using circular economy principles, are transforming traditional take-make-dispose thinking with incredible speed.

We want to be part of the circular economy revolution and are committed to pioneering breakthroughs and new ways of doing business.

In October 2018, for example, we signed a collaboration agreement with global resource management business Veolia to work on emerging technologies that will help create a circular economy on plastics. Starting in India and Indonesia, the three-year agreement focuses on ways to develop and scale up collection and reprocessing infrastructure so that recycled content is channelled back into the value chain. Together, we will explore ways to build recycling capacity and develop new processes and business models.

This is just one example, but many more innovations are needed if we are to move towards a more circular economy – and in doing so, unlock the economic prize for business.

1Science Daily

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