Meet the Sustainability Leader: TerraCycle, P&G and SUEZ – Sustainable Supply Chains

With entries closing this week for edie's revamped 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards, this new feature series will showcase the achievements of the 2018 winners, revealing their secrets to success. Up next: our 2018 Sustainable Supply Chains winners, TerraCycle, P&G and SUEZ.

Ocean plastics are a visual reminder of one of the core circular economy tripping points for businesses across the world. Almost two-thirds of all recyclable plastic packaging now ends up in landfill, but with plastics still very much indispensable, companies are beginning to embed them into a closed-loop approach.

That is exactly what recycling experts TerraCycle have done, forming a new partnership with Suez and consumer goods firm Proctor & Gamble (P&G) to recover plastic found on beaches or in waterways to create recyclable products.

Although the partnership is still in its infancy, the three companies have successfully formed a brand-new supply chain that supports thousands of volunteers and hundreds of NGOs by facilitating demand for the world’s largest production run of recyclable bottles made with post-consumer recycled (PCR) beach plastic.

In total, 3,000kg of beach plastic pellets have been utilised in the production of 170,000 Head & Shoulders shampoo bottles, which went on sale in June 2017. Each bottle is made up of up to 25% PCR beach plastic.

The initiative has redirected where NGOs and community groups would send collected beach plastics. Originally, volunteers for beach cleans would collect the waste which was then sent to landfill or incineration.

But through this new partnership, beach plastic is now sent to TerraCycle, which manually sorts the plastics while Suez mechanically sorts, cleans and shreds it. The broken-down plastic is then sent to P&G’s bottle manufacturer to create the Head & Shoulders bottles.

The partnership issued clear communication to organisations carrying out beach cleanups, making it explicitly clear that the material can be sent for recycling. Initially, the project was established with non-profits in the UK and France, but demand for recycled beach plastic has increased and the supply chain has been mirrored across six continents.

Since the collection process started last year, around 65 tonnes of beach plastic have been gathered and, at the time of writing, TerraCycle expects to receive another 40 tonnes before the end of 2017. The Head & Shoulders brand has used a portion of the material collected in Europe to produce around 970,000 bottles and plans are in place to use material collected in other regions to support a similar product rollout in those markets. Other brand equities within P&G are expected to follow suit over the next two years.

The success of the initiative, which is still ongoing, depends on the constant communication between the parties involved. TerraCycle held numerous calls with the research and development teams from P&G and its bottle makers ALPHA. The aim of the calls was to understand material specifications.

Initial tests on beach plastic suggested that, on its own, it would not mould seamlessly into P&G’s bottle shape. Through further conversations, it was established that a bottle consisting of 25% to 30% beach plastic would create a product that would maintain the provisions of the bottle design that P&G and ALPHA were accustomed to. Small amounts of antioxidant were added to the final pellet formulation to combat some cases of material degradation; these were usually found on plastic that had sat in the sun or in salt water for long periods of time.

Only high-density polyethylene (HDPE) is considered for this process, and subsequently used in the new Head & Shoulders bottles. However, other rigid plastics collected through the scheme, including polyethylene terephthalate (PET) are recycled and given a second life in products such as benches and bins.

Additional country launches of the scheme continue to be announced and one of the long-term goals of using beach plastics in products is to help stimulate public behaviour change. Educational messages have been added to the bottle to encourage consumers to participate in beach clean-ups and purchase the products that use the plastic they helped to recover.

The partnership eventually hopes to change how consumers view waste and to consider what happens to an item after consumption and use. TerraCycle, SUEZ and P&G are confident that the partnership will create long-lasting results to reduce waste and the carbon emissions associated with the manufacturing of virgin plastic.

Considering that supply chains can often be difficult to map, and at points are untraceable, this initiative has successfully created a fully-traceable supply of plastics that would have otherwise plagued the oceans. All companies involved have signalled their commitments to strengthening the chain and increasing output over the coming years.

What the judges said: “This is innovative, scalable, it’s a stab at a closed-loop system, it’s a flash of the circular economy and it’s bringing these issues closer to the consumer. This could potentially shift a system. It’s just great!”

edie’s 2019 Sustainability Leaders Award

Now in their 12th year, the RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards have undergone a major revamp, with a host of new categories and judges, a new Awards venue, and a new Mission Possible theme – making 6 February 2019 the biggest night of the sustainable business calendar.

The entry deadline for the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday, 14 September 2018. The Awards will then take place on the night of 6 February 2019 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 


Matt Mace

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