Jan 30, 2017 / by Guest / In CE Leadership, Guest Blog

Unilever’s Global Commitment to a Circular Economy

PPolmanOn any given day over two billion consumers across the globe use a Unilever product. This might be someone enjoying a relaxing cup of Lipton tea, showering with Dove soap or preparing a sandwich with Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Unilever sells some of the world’s best loved brands such as Breyers, Knorr, Magnum, Vaseline, Becel and Ben and Jerry’s. With a broad portfolio of brands distributed in over 190 countries this means that Unilever contributes a significant volume of packaging material into the marketplace. In fact, Unilever purchases over 2 million tonnes of packaging each year.

While Canada is fortunate to have a well-developed and robust recycling system for packaging across much of the country still far too many recyclable materials end up in a landfill. Plastics are especially challenging and can create significant problems, particularly when they end up in natural ecosystems. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, only 14% of plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants while 40% ends up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

Unilever believes that this common cycle of take-make-dispose is unacceptable and is accelerating its efforts to transition to a circular economy for its plastics packaging. The circular economy is a business approach that aims to improve the design of materials, products, systems and business models in order to maximize value and eliminate waste.  Applying this approach to managing its plastic packaging is part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan and goal of halving the environmental footprint of the making and use of its products by 2030.

Earlier this month Unilever announced a commitment to help transform global plastic packaging materials flows by:

  • Ensuring all of its plastic packaging is designed to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025
  • Renewing its membership of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for another three years and engaging with circular economy initiatives world-wide including the Circular Economy Innovation Lab here in Canada;
  • Investing in proving, and then sharing with the industry, a technical solution to recycle multi-layered, single-use sachets, a packaging format used primarily in developing and emerging markets used.

Unilever is proud to be taking this step forward and is calling on the entire consumer goods industry to join it in accelerating progress towards a circular economy for packaging materials.

In Canada Unilever is taking an active role in discussions on how to transform the flow of paper and packaging materials towards a circular approach by participating with the Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab a program of Ontario’s Circular Economy Innovation Lab (CEIL). The Rapid Lab provides Unilever with the opportunity to build networks and alliances that will help it meet its sustainability goals locally, and engage others in joining the move toward the circular and regenerative flow of paper and packaging materials in Canada.

Furthermore, Unilever has adopted an Extended Producer Responsibility approach for the management of its materials in Canada. This means embedding circular thinking into our innovation process, re-thinking the way we design products and participating in the funding and management of consumer recycling programs. Unilever recognizes the benefits of this approach for both business and the environment – less material use means less cost and less waste. It means new sources of value for customers and consumers, better risk management of raw materials, and improved or different approaches to the supply chain.

There is much more work to be done in Canada but Unilever believes that the CEIL approach of facilitating a collaborative and cooperative forum for dialogue amongst individuals across the entire packaging supply chain is vital to moving Canada to the next step in achieving a circular economy approach to the efficient management of packaging materials.

The article ‘Unilever’s Global Commitment to a Circular Economy’ was written by John Coyne, Vice President, Legal and External Affairs, Unilever Canada and CEIL Steering Committee member with contribution from Catherine McVitty, Manager of Sustainable Living at Unilever Canada and a participant of CEIL’s Printed Paper and Packaging Rapid Lab.