A year ago we became a founding member of The UK Plastics Pact, an ambitious multi-stakeholder initiative, led by WRAP, which aims to transform the plastic packaging system in the UK and keep plastic in the economy and out of the ocean.
As a founding member, Unilever supported WRAP and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in the development of a series of ambitious 2025 targets, which all members will work towards, this includes:
- Eliminating problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, innovation or alternative (re-use) delivery models.
- 100% of plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable.
- 70% of plastic packaging effectively recycled or composted.
- 30% average recycled content across all plastic packaging.
These ambitious targets support Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and our broader commitment to increase the use of recycled plastic content in packaging and to ensure 100% of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. In the UK, however, we’re working to accelerate this progress. As The UK Plastics Pact celebrates its one year anniversary, and the progress of its members, we wanted to highlight a few key achievements and progress we’ve made with plastics over the last year.
Achieving 100% recyclability of our black plastic bottles has previously been an issue, as automatic sorting machines used in waste facilities in the UK use near infra-red light which cannot detect carbon black pigment found in ‘standard’ black plastic.
Earlier this month we announced that we had developed a new detectable black pigment which will allow our black plastic packaging for TRESemmé and Lynx to be successfully sorted and sent for recycling at waste management centres. This solution to the black plastic recycling challenge will result in up to 2,500 tonnes of black plastic going on to be recycled, rather than going to waste – the equivalent tonnage of 200 London buses
This new pigment was developed in collaboration with our UK waste management partners to ensure their waste sorting machines are able to detect the new material, ensuring a true end-to-end solution.
We’ve made this new technology and approach freely accessible to other companies to adopt and we hope to see companies adopt this technology and to accelerate wider progress in moving towards increased recyclability.
Increasing recycled content in our products
Across our UK & Ireland brands, we’ve accelerated our programme towards using more recycled content. We’re already exceeding The UK Plastic Pacts target of achieving a 30% average of recycled content across a number of our products.
Our Comfort Ultra Concentrated Fabric Conditioners and Cif Nature’s Recipe products are now made using 100% PCR. This year our Lynx and TRESemmé products will all move to at least 30% recycled materials, with a number of our products soon to contain at least 50% PCR including some of our Lynx and Dove products.
In addition, last year we launched our new personal care brand, Love Beauty & Planet, which uses bottles that are made using 100% recycled material.
Improving biodegradability of our products
Last year we announced that our PG tips tea bags would be moving to using a fully biodegradable, plant-based material to heat seal the teabags. Householders can recycle their biodegradable tea bags by putting them in their local food waste collection, or their home composter.
We’ve also recently launching our new Simple Biodegradable Cleansing Wipes, which are made from renewable plant fibres and sustainable wood pulp. Whilst delivering the same skin cleansing benefits consumers expect these wipes biodegrade in just 42 days (under home compost conditions). Simple has an ambition to make all its wipes biodegradable and plan to stop production of non-biodegradable face wipes by the end of 2020.
Our progress on plastics
In addition to these three key examples of plastic progress, we’ve been working towards The UK Plastic Pact targets across our other brands too.
For example, our Cif Kitchen and Bathroom surface sprays are now available triggerless, meaning consumers can re-use the trigger head from previous bottles.
Our recyclable Cif and Comfort bottles have introduced perforations on their shrink sleeves so these can be easily removed before the bottle is recycled – improving recycling efficiency.
Finally, last year we joined as a member of the On-Pack Recycling Label (ORPL), to provide simple and consistent recycling guidance on products sold in the UK. With our presence in 98% of UK households, this means we can be part of the solution to improving recycling rates across the nation.