Unilever packages new life for recycled HDPE plastics

As part of its commitment to a circular economy – one where there is zero waste – Unilever Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) will introduce locally-recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic into the bottles of its home and personal care brands.

The decision means 25 per cent of packaging used for household brands such as OMO, Dove, Surf, Sunsilk and TRESemmé will be sourced from recycled HDPE plastic.

It is estimated that the move will give new life to 750 tonnes of recycled Australian plastic per year – the equivalent of 200,000 yellow bins full of plastic bottles.

The company said that its “landmark” move was a first in Australia, particularly as recycled HDPE plastic has been difficult to source and use for this type of packaging (such as shampoo and laundry detergent bottles). Unilever has announced that the bottles containing one quarter recycled HDPE plastics will be on supermarket shelves by early 2019.

The consumer goods company will be the first in Australia to make the shift to source and adopt high volumes of locally-recycled HDPE into their packaging. This is of particular importance in light of China’s recent ban on importing recyclable waste and the pressures this has placed on local councils and the recycling industry.

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Unilever ANZ CEO Clive Stiff said that creating a local market and demand for all types of recycled plastic was a critical step towards Australia’s circular economy.

“We want to give Australians confidence that for each bottle of OMO, Dove, Sunsilk, Surf or TRESemmé they buy, they are giving a new lease of life to the plastic they recycle in their yellow bins. In short, this move diverts plastic away from landfill,” Mr Stiff said.

The recent announcement is in line with Unilever’s 2017 global commitment to design all its plastic packaging to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The multinational also promised to use at least 25 per cent recycled packaging by 2025.

Mr Stiff said that while Unilever was making “good progress on our packaging targets in Australia and New Zealand”, there was still a lot more work to be done in terms of availability and both the technical and economic feasibility of using recycled plastic.

“As a consumer goods company we are acutely aware of the consequences of a linear take-make-dispose model and we want to change it. We are proud to be taking this step forward, but no business can create a circular economy in isolation. Creating a local market and demand for all types of recycled plastic is critical and heavy lifting is needed from all players involved – suppliers, packaging converters, brand owners, policymakers and retailers, collectors, sorters and recyclers, We need a complete shift in how we think about and use resources.”