How P&G formed a new supply chain to combat ocean plastics

EXCLUSIVE: The Procter & Gamble (P&G) Company's new Fairy Ocean Plastic Bottle serves to highlight a "totally new supply chain and approach" to incorporating post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic into products, as the firm closes in on a 2020 packaging target.

P&G announced last week that one of its most recognisable brands, Fairy washing up liquid, would be packaged in bottles made completely from PCR plastic and repurposed ocean plastic. Set to go on sale in 2018, the bottles will consist of 10% ocean plastic, with the rest deriving from post-consumer plastics.

The 320,000 bottles that will go on sale at launch are part of P&G’s goal to raise awareness on current plastic waste issues, and reach a 2020 goal to double the amount of recycled material used in packaging – something it has been doing on a smaller scale for more than 25 years.

Speaking exclusively to edie, P&G’s vice president of global sustainability Virginie Helias claimed that using high-profile brands to incorporate recycled plastic not only showcased P&G’s commitment to the cause, but would also raise public awareness on an “urgent matter”.

“We’ve chosen iconic brands that are used frequently for this initiative,” Helias said. “Fairy is the number one brand in the world for its purpose, and our brands have iconic appearance, colours and shapes. By using PCR plastic, we’ve changed those appearances, which is not something we do lightly.

“The value of what we’re doing is to engage people into a dialogue and action and that they can be part of a solution. Today they are concerned, but they don’t know where to start, we’re making it easy to do little things that will make a difference.”

Helias revealed that the new plastic packaging maintains most of the transparency and appearance of traditional Fairy bottles, but if they were placed side by side, there would be a “slight” noticeable difference. The label has also been added to a beach background as part of the awareness aspect of the campaign.

P&G also modified another of its best-performing brands, through Head & Shoulders shampoo. These bottles contain up to 25% post-consumer recycled (PCR) beach plastic and has seen the packaging change from white to dark grey to accommodate the new materials.

Mountain of solutions

But P&G aren’t alone in using ocean plastics in products, with companies like HP and Dell also committing to similar initiatives. Both Dell and HP work with non-profits such as Thread to work with developing companies to create collection systems that benefit the locals, and P&G has also revamped its supply chain to prove that using ocean plastic is a corporate strategy rather than a greenwashed selling point.

As well as working with non-profits in areas of South East Asia to help with the collection process, P&G has also formed a partnership with recycling experts TerraCycle to create viable solutions for the plastics that are collected.

Through this partnership, P&G is able to use PCR plastic in a way that doesn’t impact the performance of its packaging, while also ensuring that the products can be recycled again at end of life.

TerraCycle’s chief executive Tom Szaky told edie that P&G’s huge marketing pull was enlightening consumers on plastic waste issues, while his company was partnering with other specialists such as SUEZ to create a “mountain of solutions” to collecting, reducing and preventing ocean plastic.

“The collection platform has grown from pan-European to pan-global,” Szaky said. “In all these countries, TerraCycle partners with hundreds of NGOs to pick up the materials, and work with locals to find new solutions.

“This was one of the challenges, it’s a big R&D exercise. Its months of mutual work to figure out how to turn this incredibly challenging material, material that has been floating in oceans and degrading through light exposure and salt water, into something that can have the right performance characteristics. It’s not just the colour, it has to stand the environment of a store and home and be able to function.”

TerraCycle also worked with P&G for the Head & Shoulders rollout, which has since sold around 150,000 bottles. By the end of 2018, P&G is aiming to be producing half a billion bottles a year that incorporate up to 25% PCR plastic – representing more than 90% of the firm’s hair care bottles sold in Europe across its portfolio of flagship brands, which also includes Pantene.

Both companies will work together to extend the initiative across other brands in the future. For now, P&G brands such as Fairy, Dawn, Yes. Dreft and Joy will continue to divert around 8,000 metric tonnes of plastic from landfill, by using them in transparent plastic bottles. These brands use on average, 40% PCR plastic and if stacked, the bottles would be 11 times the height of Mount Everest.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120bn annually, is lost to the economy and on the current track, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight) by 2050.

However, not all the plastic recovered through P&G’s new supply chain is suitable for reuse for transparent bottles. But with P&G aiming to eliminate all manufacturing waste from its global network of more than 100 production sites by 2020, this plastic needs to go somewhere.

“We are at about 72% towards our zero waste to landfill objective,” Helias said. “We’re well on track and the way we do that is to reduce waste on our plants and recycle within our own operations. If we can’t find a place for the plastic or the waste we produce, we work with other industries to repurpose it into something they can use.”

Matt Mace

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