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The circular economy business case is clear for Unilever

Over the years, Unilever has continued to move towards a more circular economy, minimising waste by reducing, reusing and recycling its own waste and encouraging consumers to do the same, while enabling more of its packaging to either remain in loops or have the best possible opportunity to be recycled.

According to a Unilever spokesperson, Unilever is acutely aware of the consequences of a linear take-make-dispose model and wants to help lead the way towards a circular plastics economy.

In January 2017, Unilever committed to ensuring that 100 per cent of its plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. This target builds on the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) targets of halving the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020 and increasing the recycled plastic content in our packaging to 25 per cent by 2025.

“In addition to a number of other initiatives, Unilever recently announced a landmark move to introduce at least 25 per cent Australian-sourced post-consumer recycled plastic for bottles of locally made and well-known Home and Personal Care brands such as OMO, Dove, Surf, Sunsilk and TRESemmé,” the spokesperson said.

“This will create an end market and new life for approximately 750 tonnes of recycled plastic per year and represents a significant step forward in accelerating Australia’s circular economy by creating local demand for rigid plastic recycled through local council yellow kerbside collection bins.

“The business case is clear. Plastic packaging waste represents an $80 billion loss to the global economy every year. The benefits of the circular economy approach are clear for business and the environment – the more effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste. It means new sources of value for customers and consumers, better risk management of raw materials, and improved approaches to the supply chain.

“As a company, Unilever wants to help create a world where everyone can live well within the natural limits of the planet. The USLP is our blueprint for achieving our vision to decouple our growth from our environmental footprint, while increasing our positive social impact.

“Unilever ultimately hopes that all our packaging will be fit for a world that is circular by design, stepping away from the take-make-dispose model we currently live in and making sustainable living commonplace.”

Recently, Unilever became the first major consumer goods company in Australia to reuse rigid plastics from Australian homes, giving new life to approximately 750 tonnes of recycled plastic per year. Beyond this, 84 per cent of Unilever’s packaging is now recyclable, which is a figure the company hopes to move to 100 per cent in the future.

“We are committed to reducing the weight of packaging that we use by one third by 2020 through light weighting materials, optimising structural and material design, developing concentrated versions of our products and eliminating unnecessary packaging. This has resulted in the total footprint per consumer reducing 29 per cent since 2010,” the spokesperson said.

“Our lightweight Lipton Ice-Tea bottle necks and caps now use approximately 20 per cent less plastic, saving 93 tonnes of plastic each year, while removing foil wrapping and the paperboard trays from our Lipton Black Tea Bag boxes resulted in a 32 per cent primary packaging reduction for our 50 Tea Bag Packs and 35 per cent for our 100 Tea Bag packs.

“This means Unilever uses approximately 168 tonnes less of paperboard annually and have helped divert 41 tonnes of foil laminate packaging away from landfill.

“As part of the company’s journey towards being a zero-waste business, Unilever has been working with Foodbank since 1999. Unilever has also partnered with Yume, Australia’s first surplus food marketplace, to ensure that good food ends up on plates and not in the bin.”

This year, Unilever partnered with Planet Ark for National Recycling Week to educate and drive behaviour change, promote recycling initiatives and equip people with the tools necessary to minimise waste and manage material resources responsibly.

“Our USLP has three big goals to achieve, underpinned by nine commitments and targets spanning our social, environmental and economic performance across the value chain,” the spokesperson said.

“We will continue to work with others to focus on those areas where we can drive the biggest change and support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“Australia’s recycling rate is 65 per cent across all packaging. This tells us that there is still more work to be done in working towards a more sustainable circular model, but no business can create a circular economy in isolation.

“Creating a local market and demand for all types of recycled plastic is critical and heavy lifting is needed from all players involved, but addressing environmental and societal challenges such as plastic waste is not only the right thing for our world, it is good for business.”