Page 24 - Packaging News Magazine Nov-Dec 2021
P. 24

CIRCULAR ECONOMY | | November-December 2021
 Unilever R&D head speaks out
Unilever’s head of R&D, David Jones, takes a closer look at plastic packaging and its PCR journey, and shares his views with PKN on creating a circular economy here in Australia.
labelled on packaging. You’ve also got low density polyethylene 4 (LDPE 4), a soft and flexible material is commonly used in shopping bags and flexible bottles, that can be recycled at spe- cific locations such as REDcycle in Coles and Woolworths.
Our goal at Unilever is to ensure all our plastic packaging is high-grade and recyclable – we focus on using PET, HDPE and PP bottles.
It sounds simple enough in the- ory, but in practice it can be much more complicated. For example, until recently, number 2 (HDPE) black plas- tic could not be ‘seen’ by recycling technology and therefore was not being recycled as much as it should be.
Plastics are sorted by materials recovery facilities (MRFs) here in Australia, which are operated by waste minimisation companies and local governments. Most MRFs use near infra-red sorting technology to differentiate between plastics; carbon black that is used to create dark shades of plastics disrupts this detection pro- cess, sending these plastics to waste.
To ensure that the MRF process can adequately capture and pick out these plastic bottles for recycling, our Unilever R&D teams worked with sup- pliers to research new ways of creating darker colour shades without the use of carbon black. Our aim was to create the dark colours we needed without disrupting the plastic sorting process.
Today, most dark coloured plas- tic bottles made by Unilever can be detected and recycled indefinitely. Globally, this means an additional 2500 tonnes of plastic bottles can be sorted and sent for recycling each year. That is equivalent to the weight of 1250 family-sized cars.
Another way manufacturers can help reduce plastic waste is by using recy- cled plastic in our packaging.
Unilever is dedicated to making a market for recycled plastic. It does come at a cost – right now, we are paying slightly more for recycled plas- tic than virgin plastic. We also work closely with our suppliers to ensure that our products using recycled plas- tic retain the right structural integrity
 THERE’S never really a perfect time to step back and think about the amount of plastic in our lives. Many of us sit at our desks through- out the day writing on plastic keyboards, make calls on phones with plastic cases and – despite our
best intentions – end up throwing soft plastics into the general waste when we are short on time.
The hard truth is plastic has a place in all our lives. But that place should not be in our environment, or at the expense of it.
In Australia, we consume 3.5 mil- lion tonnes of plastic annually and five kilograms of plastic enter the ocean per person each year. That’s more than three times the global aver- age. But in our everyday lives it can be easy to forget about these numbers.
Because I’m also part of the R&D at Unilever ANZ – the manufacturer of some of the biggest household brands such as OMO and Dove – I’ve always been driven by a great sense of respon- sibility to reduce plastic waste more rigorously in my life.
Here’s the problem: plastic is used for many reasons. It’s relatively cheap, it’s hardy, and when it meets different types of materials – liquids, electronics,
powders – it retains its integrity. That means it doesn’t disintegrate or leak, and it holds its form. It is also a popu- lar material for food packaging because it keeps food safer to eat for longer.
Overall, that is a new lease of life for over 1200 tonnes of recycled plastic in Australia and New Zealand since 2018, or 200,000 yellow kerbside bins filled with plastic bottles. By starting from the plastic in our packaging, we can help consumers reduce their footprint. For companies like Unilever, we’re partner- ing with our suppliers Visy and Pact to source Australian-recycled HDPE plas- tic to help reduce the amount of virgin plastic that enters the market. Today, the bottles Unilever makes in Australia – including Dove, OMO, TRESemmé, Surf, and Toni & Guy – are made with 25-70 per cent recycled plastic.
From here though, it’s about how we can all work to close the loop on the recycling process.
Some plastics can be recycled, and some cannot. In Australia, plastics numbered ‘1’ (PET), ‘2’ (HDPE) and ‘5’ (PP) are the easiest to recycle – think soft drink bottles, ice cream contain- ers or shampoo – and these are clearly
ABOVE AND RIGHT: Unilever is making strides to harness the collective will to drive a circular economy for plastics.

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