At Unilever, we’ve committed to halving the amount of virgin plastic we use in our packaging by 2025, including increasing our use of recycled plastic. To help achieve this we need to help more plastic to be recycled and re-used more often.

For some of the barriers to recycling, there are no easy fixes and ensuring effective recycling depends on many elements working together. Which is why we believe in the power of partnerships and collaborating with industry experts to create solutions. Working together we can go further and faster to keep plastic and packaging out of the environment and in the circular economy.

Today UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has announced that it will invest £20m in four cutting edge recycling plants to place the UK at the forefront of the next generation of plastic recycling. The £20m investment from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, along with over £65m of industry investment, represents the largest investment the UK has made in plastic packaging recycling technologies.

These plants will increase the available recycling capacity in the UK and expand the range of plastics being recycled, as opposed to being sent to landfill or incineration, or exported overseas for disposal.

Unilever has collaborated with two of the companies who have been awarded funding from UKRI for their projects - Veolia and Recycling Technologies. Here’s more about them and the difficult recycling challenges we’re working together to try and solve.

Veolia

Veolia, one of the UK’s leading waste management companies, in collaboration with Unilever, Charpak Ltd and HSSMI (who work across the manufacturing industry to help companies overcome challenges) will develop the UK's first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility, capable of recycling 100% of clear rigid PET in a closed-loop system.

Unilever will investigate the non-food contact recycled PET produced from this facility in its home and personal care range, so avoiding the use of food contact grade material in these non-food products.

Charpak Ltd will use the flakes produced in its trays, making tray to tray recycling a reality. This will create a new, complementary non-food closed loop for recycled PET and widen availability of the material for use in bottles and trays.

Through the development and use of a digital twin, HSSMI will pioneer a virtual engineering approach in the waste industry, which will help optimise the facility and identify potential commercial challenges. If initial trials are successful, the proposed facility would process 35,000tpa of mixed PET packaging waste at an existing Veolia site.

Recycling Technologies

Recycling Technologies, a specialist plastic recycling technology provider, has been awarded funding for a chemical recycling plant that uses thermal cracking to recycle a wide range of plastic waste that cannot be recycled by conventional methods.

The plant is designed to process 7,000tpa of hard-to-recycle mixed plastic waste, producing 5,200tpa of a hydrocarbon oil which can replace crude oil in plastics production - allowing plastic to be recycled an unlimited number of times. It will be based in Perth, Scotland.

With partners, Neste Corporation and Unilever, this project combines the expertise of three global leaders in their respective business areas to develop chemical recycling and make hard-to-recycle plastic packaging, such as films, sachets and pouches, recyclable.

You can find out more about Recycling Technologies’ project here.

Sebastian Munden, General Manager of Unilever UK & Ireland

Sebastian Munden, Executive Vice President, Unilever UK & Ireland, said:

“We’re really pleased to be working in collaboration with Recycling Technologies and Neste, developing a solution for plastic which is currently difficult to recycle including plastic films and flexible packaging, and with Veolia on recycling PET pots, tubs, trays and bottles to create non-food contact recycled material for use in our home and personal care product packaging.

“Unilever is committed to halving the amount of virgin plastic we use in our packaging by 2025, including increasing our use of recycled plastic. Collaboration between partners and industry experts is so important, as together we can develop solutions to the biggest barriers to recycling with innovation that is effective and scalable.”

#GetPlasticWise

You can find Unilever brands in 9 out of every 10 UK homes. So, when it comes to disposing of our products, we have a huge responsibility to ensure once they’ve been used, that they are successfully recycled whenever possible. It’s not only the right thing to do, but we know it’s important to our consumers.

Globally, Unilever has committed to:

  • Ensuring that all of our plastic and packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025
  • Using more recycled content
  • Halving our use of virgin plastic
  • Collecting and processing more plastic than we sell

Here in the UK & Ireland, progress towards our global Unilever plastic targets is being accelerated under a five-point plastic plan, #GetPlasticWise. This new campaign is a holistic approach to rethinking plastics in Unilever UK & Ireland’s products, working towards keeping plastics within their plastic economy, not in the environment.

In 2018, Unilever UK & Ireland 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. As well as accelerating progress towards these targets, Unilever UK & Ireland is working towards making a significant contribution towards the UK Plastics Pact targets.

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