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Progress towards a circular economy

Tackling waste and packaging

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Increasing resource scarcity means it is more urgent than ever to be efficient with packaging and find solutions to deal with ‘post-consumer’ waste.

We continually look at new ways to reduce, re-use, recycle and recover packaging and waste as we move towards becoming a zero waste business.

The business case is clear. Reducing waste creates efficiencies and lowers costs. Re-using materials extends their life, helping to use less of the earth’s precious resources.

Recycling allows us to repurpose valuable materials that would otherwise have been wasted. The more we reduce, re-use, recycle and recover our packaging, the greater the cost savings in materials, energy, transport and disposal. The more we can design in a circular way, the more value we can create for our company and for others.

100% recyclable, reusable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025

In January 2017, we committed to ensuring that all of our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and called on the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry to accelerate progress towards the circular economy.

Progress in Australia and New Zealand

We are among a small but 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 the new 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.

In Australia and New Zealand 78% of our total packaging is recyclable and we are building a roadmap to meet the 2025 target.

Using at least 25% recycled plastic by 2025

We are committed to including at least 25% recycled plastic in our plastic packaging by 2025. Globally we have rolled out a number of packs that use post-consumer recycled plastic.

In Australia this year, we launched Omo EcoActive with 25% recycled Australian plastic and a plant-based formula. Using post-consumer recycled plastic in Omo EcoActive packaging is just the start for us in helping to create a local market for recycled plastic and a closed loop, circular plastics economy in Australia & New Zealand.

We face a number of challenges in this area including availability of good quality recycled plastic in Australia and technical considerations. These are not impossible obstacles to overcome but they do require effort, investment and collective action from all players involved across the industry including suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners and retailers, collectors, sorters and recyclers. We look forward to working in partnership with others to drive progress.

Reducing packaging weight by one third by 2020

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.

Our progress in Australia has been recognised by the Australian Packaging Covenant, with Unilever awarded the highest performing organisation in the “Large Pharmacy & Personal Care” category twice and also taking out the overall Recycling Award in 2016.

In New Zealand we are also members of the Packaging Council of New Zealand which brings together industry to work towards more environmentally friendly packaging options.

Locally, our light-weight Lipton Ice Tea bottle necks and caps use approximately 20% less plastic, saving 93 tonnes of plastic each year, while removing foil wrapping and the paperboard trays from our Lipton Black Tea bags boxes resulted in a 32% primary packaging reduction for our 50 Tea Bag Packs and 35% for our 100 Tea Bag Packs. This means we use approximately 168 tonnes less of paperboard annually and have helped divert 41 tonnes of foil laminate packaging away from landfill.

Our 200ml Sunsilk Shampoo and Conditioner bottles are now also made with 29% less plastic which means we use less raw materials, save energy and reduce transportation costs.

Making recycling easier for consumers

We know making our packaging recyclable is only part of our responsibility. Unilever also has a role to play in helping consumers what is recyclable and how to recycle. This year, we were one of the first companies to voluntarily sign up to the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation’s (APCO) Australasian Recycling Label (ARL).

Along with other leading organisations such as Australia Post, Blackmores, Nestlé, Officeworks and Woolworths, Unilever will adopt the label with the ultimate goal of increasing recycling rates and reducing the amount of waste going to landfill.

The ARL aims to create greater transparency amongst industry, driving more sustainable supply chain models and outlining for consumers what product packaging is made from so that they can correctly recycle it after use.

“The Australasian Recycling Label has been the result of close collaboration and partnership,” Brooke Donnelly, CEO of APCO, explains, “We’re incredibly proud of this initiative and of our members who have already pledged their commitment. The broad representation across industries demonstrates the growing sense of sustainability awareness and commitment in the Australia business community.”

Unilever looks forward to working closely with APCO and the ARL marketing partner Planet ArK as we continue to work towards a circular economy as part of our commitment to reducing our environmental impact under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Soft plastic recycling

Since 2015, we’ve partnered with The Red Group, an Australian closed loop recycling initiative for soft-plastics, to help improve packaging recycling rates. The REDcycle program enables consumers to recycle packaging such as Streets ice-cream wrappers and Continental packs which are then processed into new products such as outdoor furniture for schools and signage.

Through dedicated REDcycle collection bins at Coles and Woolworths, our partnership has helped divert over 2 million packs, or over 3.3 tonnes of flexible plastic packaging, away from landfill. Collectively, the efforts of manufacturers, retailers and consumers have diverted over 380 million pieces of plastic from landfill to date.

In New Zealand we are proud to work with the Packaging Forum on their Love NZ Soft Plastic Recycling Scheme which has helped Kiwis recycle over 365 tonnes of soft plastic in the past year.

Reducing waste in manufacturing

Continuing with our approach of reducing, reusing, recovering or recycling we have extended our ambition to become a zero waste business beyond our factories. In 2015 our Australian factories, offices and warehouses joined the list of 600 Unilever sites globally that are sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. Through a combination of waste reduction and waste recycling initiatives, we’ve also reduced our total waste per tonne of production by 26% compared to 2016 – a 52% reduction compared to 2008 baseline.

These achievements have been made possible by our dedicated and passionate people who continue to find innovative ways to reduce waste in our manufacturing operations. For example, our Minto factory established a dedicated team to identify issues, reposition waste bins on the production line and decontaminate ice cream waste. As a result, ice cream waste was able to be diverted to Earthpower and used to generate electricity or sent to local farmers to be used as stock-feed.

Upcycling is another solution that has enabled us to divert waste away from landfill at our Tatura factory. After improving recycling at the site, the Tatura factory took on the challenge of upcycling left over building materials into useful items. For example, old wooden crates and panels were turned into toys for charities and disadvantaged children by the Shepparton Men’s Shed.

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