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Ways we’re helping tackle plastic waste

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Average read time: 6 minutes

A male waste segregator at Hindustan Unilever Limited’s waste segregation facility.

Plastic is one of the most efficient and safe ways to transport our products from our factories to our customers’ homes, besides leaving behind the lowest carbon footprint in comparison to other packaging materials. Unfortunately, plastic is ending up in the environment – where it should not be, and we must all collectively work to put a stop to this, now!

We recognise that plastic is important, but we won’t stand back and watch it as it pollutes and contaminates our environment – especially when some of it has our name stamped-on it. To help tackle this, we are radically changing our approach to packaging and striving to use less, better or no plastic.

Promises we’ve made - to ourselves and the planet

We at Unilever are working towards keeping plastic in the loop and promoting its circularity – so we don’t add to the existing plastic problem. We are committed to accelerating a transition to a circular economy, moving from the linear take-make-dispose model to a regenerative approach, which keeps materials at their highest value for as long as possible.

Keeping this in mind, we as a business are innovating and have set some goals for our journey that 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 more than 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

Encouraging safe collection and segregation

We have facilitated environmentally safe disposal of more than 2.3 lakh tons (cumulatively) of post-consumer-use plastic waste. Our EPR journey grew from 12 sites in 2017 and collection of 6,500 tons of plastic to more than 160 locations in 2021 with 116,000+ tons of plastic collected. Hindustan Unilever Limited achieved plastic neutrality in 20211.

Our EPR work is spread across 36 states & Union Territories of India, including large towns, small cities & gram panchayats. We are assisted by our collection partners such as Saahas, Recykal, RaddiConnect/ ReCircle, Geocycle, Paperman, Green Worms, Ramky Enviro etc. and along with support from Municipal Corporations, we have effectively reached out to housing societies and commercial establishments to improve the collection of plastic waste. The material collected is utilised for energy recovery, generating electricity, making roads & is recycled too.

While the existing eco-system already recycles rigid plastics, the real challenge is the recycling of flexible plastics like wrappers, pouches, shopping bags & thin films, which also happen to be the root cause of street litter & marine pollution. This is because collection of flexibles cost much higher and have little or no economic value. Hence, to make a real difference, we opted for a challenge, and decided to focus on flexibles (>90% of our EPR in 2021).

With brand-agnostic plastic collection, our collection partners are instructed to pick every piece of plastic waste from garbage, whether it bears the Unilever logo or a competitor’s brand or something as simple as discarded unbranded shopping bags. We have gone beyond EPR as defined by law by adopting this holistic approach. HUL has shared details of this inclusive & efficient approach with authorities, to be incorporated into upcoming EPR frameworks in India.

The initiative is slated to grow further in 2022 & beyond; we are reaching out to more partners, going to more remote locations & exploring advanced methods of deploying a circular economy approach for plastics.

Material recovery facility

We have also collaborated with UNDP and have implemented a HUL and UNDP successfully implement a plastic waste management model2 with support from 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. Along with the collection & recovery of dry waste, the focus is also to drive fundamental behavioural change and inculcate good waste management habits like segregation at the source, aiming at resource efficiency supporting a circular economy.

In addition to this, we have set up a Material Recovery Facility in D ward in South Mumbai, in partnership with Xynteo, SBI Foundation and Dalmia Polypro – a plastic recycling organisation. Together, we are piloting a unique business model approach for sustainability that focuses on traceability and end-life use to improve circularity.

Beneficiaries of this programme also include our Safai Saathis3 or waste collectors that help us keep the city of Mumbai clean. Through our ongoing partnership with UNDP and the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, we have been working towards capacity building on safety, health, waste segregation, financial awareness and hygiene & sanitation, among other initiatives. Through Project Utthaan, we aim to provide them with access to government programmes & more - which will result in a more empowered, secure community.

Hindustan Unilever Limited’s waste segregation facility

Reforming the future - by educating the present

The future of a nation is determined by its children and youth. HUL, Xynteo, Government of Maharashtra launch ‘Waste No More4, we have reached over 200,000 students in collaboration with the Maharashtra Education Department and Xynteo, inspiring them to be agents of change and manage waste effectively - starting right from their homes.

Hul Waste No More school curriculum on waste management being taught by a schoolteacher to students in a classroom.

Less, Better, No Plastic

In our continuous endeavour to reduce, reuse and recycle packaging, we have swapped commodity polymers with performance-based polymers, optimised the packaging designs, and changed the packaging formats of our products, which has resulted in decreased consumption of plastic. Across our brands, we are eliminating unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign and innovation, slowly but surely moving towards our goal of little or no plastic. For instance:

  • Our Smart Fill Initiative5 and the first refillable Lakmé product, Lakmé Absolute Perfect Radiance Day Crème, enable our consumers to reuse their old plastic packaging themselves.
  • We have eliminated the use of plastic overwraps from skincare brands like Pond’s white beauty and Glow & Lovely BB packs.
  • All our shampoo sachets and soap wrappers are recycle-ready material.
  • Our soap cartons and stiffeners are plastic-free.
  • Surf excel Matic Liquid uses 100% biodegradable actives in formulation, along with 50% recycled plastic in packaging, while our Vim liquid bottles have 50% rPET.
  • We have initiated the usage of rHDPE (25% recycled HDPE) in our personal care bottles like TRESemmé, Sunsilk, Vaseline lotions, Surf excel laundry liquid and Comfort fabric conditioner and rPET (80% recycled PET) in our blister packs for personal care brands such as Pepsodent toothbrushes and Vaseline lip care products.
An image of a huge surf excel installation made of waste plastic at Carter road Mumbai

What does the future hold for us?

We at Hindustan Unilever Limited are guided by our Unilever Compass Strategy and our vision of becoming a leader in sustainable business. Our bold commitments are vital to tackle critical challenges relating to packaging, waste, climate change, and social inclusion.

From advanced product & packaging innovations to clean-up campaigns and mass education, we are looking for every opportunity to transform our business and create a better future for the planet.

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