Under the new partnership, the firms will partner for a three-year period to develop emerging technologies that could create circular economy solutions for the world’s plastic waste streams.

Starting in India and Indonesia, the partnership’s work will initially focus on programmes aimed at boosting material collection rates, which will help channel recycled content back into the value chain.

As the schemes spread into other global markets, Unilever and Veolia will jointly implement used packaging collection solutions, invest in recycling structure capacity and develop new, closed-loop processes and business models.

“There is an undeniable need to transform the way end-of-life plastic packaging is currently managed in order to reduce significantly its environmental footprint, and this will take a collaboration of a new kind between all the actors of the value chain,” Veolia’s senior executive vice-president for development, innovation and markets Laurent Auguste said.

“With this global partnership, Veolia and Unilever join forces in various geographies around the globe and, from the collection to the recycling, take a leadership role to redefine a responsible and sustainable future for packaging.”

The war on plastics

The partnership comes at a time when public, political and corporate attention remains firmly fixed on the eight million tonnes of plastic estimated to be finding its way into oceans annually, in the wake of the BBC’s Blue Planet 2 series.

Packaging is undeniably at the epicentre of the plastics problem, with a recent Ellen MacArthur Foundation report revealing that just 14% of the plastic packaging produced globally each year is captured for recycling. 40%, meanwhile, ends up in landfill, while 33% finds its way into ecosystems.

In a bid to tackle the issue, Unilever pledged in 2017 to ensure that all of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

To help create an end market for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic streams, the company has also committed to increase the average proportion of recycled material in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025.

Since making these commitments, Unilever has partnered with start-up Ioniqa and Indorama Ventures – the largest global producer of PET resin – to develop a closed-loop system that converts waste plastics back into food-grade packaging material. The British-Dutch firm is also an Ellen MacArthur Foundation member and recently gave its backing to the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative.

Commenting on the company’s new partnership with Veolia, Unilever’s chief supply chain officer Marc Engel said: “The scale of the plastic waste issue is getting worse, not better, with the production of plastics expected to double over the next two decades.  

“We all have a lot more to do to address this critical issue and we hope that by partnering with Veolia, a world leader in waste management, we can take meaningful strides towards a circular economy.”

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Jeff Shattuck says:

    Hopefully, Unilever will help some of us companies who are trying to do the actual work of recovery of existing plastics in the ecosystems.
    While their approach to collection at the point of consumption is absolutely a must, we also need to recover plastics already in the ecosystem.
    We are ready to go to work. Not just attend conferences and additional research on an issue we are already acutely aware of.

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