Hindustan Unilever: How we are helping to tackle plastic waste
Plastic is one of the most efficient and safest ways to transport our products from our factories to our customers’ homes, as well as leaving behind the lowest carbon footprint compared to other packaging materials. Unfortunately, plastic is ending up in the environment – where it shouldn’t be, and we all need to work collectively to stop it, now!
We recognize plastic is important, but we won’t stand back and stare at it as it pollutes and contaminates our environment – especially when some of it bears our name. To help solve this problem, we are radically changing our approach to packaging and striving to use less, better or no plastic.
The promises we made – to ourselves and the planet
At Unilever, we strive to keep plastic in the loop and promote its circularity – so we don’t add to the existing plastic problem. We are committed to accelerating the transition to a circular economy, shifting from a linear take-do-throw model to a regenerative approach, which keeps materials at their highest value for as long as possible.
With this in mind, we as a company are innovating and have set goals for our journey which we aim to achieve by 2025:
Our plastic goals
By 2025, we will:
Halve the amount of virgin plastic we use in our packaging and achieve an absolute reduction of over 100,000 tonnes
Collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell
Ensure that 100% of our plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable
Use 25% recycled plastic in our packaging
Encourage safe collection and separation
We have facilitated the environmentally safe disposal of over 2.2 lakh tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste. Our EPR journey has grown from 12 sites in 2017 and collecting 6,500 tonnes of plastic to over 160 sites in 2021 with over 116,000 tonnes of plastic collected. Hindustan Unilever Limited achieved plastic neutrality in 20211.
Our EPR work is spread across 36 states and union territories of India including major cities, small towns and gram panchayats. We are helped by our collection partners such as Saahas, Recykal, RaddiConnect/ ReCircle, Geocycle, Paperman, Green Worms, Ramky Enviro etc. and with the support of municipalities, we have effectively contacted housing companies and commercial establishments to improve the collection of plastic waste. The material collected is used for energy recovery, power generation, road construction and is also recycled.
While the existing ecosystem already recycles rigid plastics, the real challenge is the recycling of soft plastics such as packaging, sachets, shopping bags and thin films, which are also the source of litter on the streets and marine pollution. This is because collecting hoses is much more expensive and has little or no economic value. So, to make a real difference, we opted for a challenge, and decided to focus on flexibles (>90% of our REP in 2021).
With brand-independent plastic collection, our collection partners are responsible for removing every piece of plastic waste from the rubbish, whether it bears the Unilever logo or a competitor’s brand or something as simple as shopping bags. unbranded discarded. We have gone beyond EPR as defined by law by adopting this holistic approach. HUL shared the details of this inclusive and effective approach with the authorities, to be incorporated into the next EPR frameworks in India.
The initiative is expected to grow further in 2022 and beyond; we are reaching out to more partners, traveling to more remote locations and exploring advanced methods of deploying a circular economy approach to plastics.
Material recovery center
We have also collaborated with the UNDP and set up a material recovery facility2 with the support of MCGM in various parts of Mumbai such as K-East Andheri, H-West Bandra, R-North Dahisar and G South Worli wards. This initiative aims to establish a holistic material recovery model. Alongside the collection and recovery of dry waste, there is also a focus on driving fundamental behavior change and inculcating good waste management habits, such as source separation, aimed at resource efficiency for a circular economy.
In addition to this, we have set up a material recovery facility in Ward D in South Mumbai, in partnership with Xynteo, SBI Foundation and Dalmia Polypro – a plastic recycling organization. Together, we are piloting a unique business model approach to sustainability that emphasizes traceability and end-of-life use to improve circularity.
Beneficiaries of this program also include our Safai Saathis3 or waste collectors who help us keep the city of Mumbai clean. Through our ongoing partnership with UNDP and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, we have worked to build capacity in safety, health, waste sorting, financial awareness and hygiene and sanitation, among others initiatives. Through Project Utthaan, we aim to provide them with access to government programs and more, which will result in a more empowered and safer community.
Reforming the future – by educating the present
The future of a nation is determined by its children and young people. Thanks to our “Waste No More” program4we have reached over 200,000 students in collaboration with the Maharashtra Department of Education and Xynteo, inspiring them to be agents of change and manage waste effectively – starting right at home.
Less is better, no plastic
In our ongoing efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging, we have replaced commodity polymers with performance-based polymers, optimized packaging designs and changed our product packaging formats, resulting in a reduction in plastic consumption. Across all of our brands, we’re eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign and innovation, slowly but surely getting closer to our goal of little to no plastic. For example:
Our smart filling initiative5 and the first Lakmé refillable product, Lakmé Absolute Perfect Radiance Day Cream, allow our consumers to reuse their old plastic packaging themselves.
We’ve eliminated the use of plastic overwraps from skincare brands like Pond’s white beauty and Glow & Lovely BB packs.
All of our shampoo sachets and soap packaging are ready-to-recycle materials.
Our soap cartons and stiffeners are plastic free.
Surf excel Matic Liquid uses 100% biodegradable actives in its formulation, as well as 50% recycled plastic in its packaging, while our Vim liquid bottles contain 50% rPET.
We pioneered the use of rHDPE (25% recycled HDPE) in our personal care bottles like TRESemmé, Sunsilk, Vaseline lotions, Surf excel laundry liquid and Comfort fabric softener and rPET (80% PET recycled) in our blister packs for personal care brands. such as Pepsodent toothbrushes and Vaseline lip care products.
What does the future hold for us?
At Hindustan Unilever Limited, we are guided by our Unilever Compass strategy and our vision to become a leader in sustainable business. Our bold commitments are key to tackling critical challenges related to packaging, waste, climate change and social inclusion.
From advanced product and packaging innovations to cleanup campaigns and mass education, we seek every opportunity to transform our business and create a better future for the planet.