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Unilever makes progress tackling plastic packaging in Asia

On track to meet goals of 25% plastic use by 2025.

In 2019, Unilever announced its commitment to halve the use of virgin plastic in its packaging, and to help collect and process more plastic packaging that it sells. The organisation hopes to achieve this by 2025. Unilever revealed that around 11% of its total plastic packaging worldwide already consists of recycled plastic, a progress towards its 25% recycled plastic use by 2025.

Unilever has updated on its progress in Asia Pacific through partnerships, collaborations and initiatives.

Using Technology

In China, Unilever teamed up with the Alibaba Group to create an Al-enabled recycling system for plastic bottles. Through the Waste-Free World initiative, Unilever installed 20 recycling machines in offices and community spaces in two of China’s largest cities, Shanghai and Hangzhou. The machines automatically identify the plastic the bottle is made of, sort and store it, so it can be collected and returned to recycling centres and fast-tracked for reuse. Consumers earn Unilever coupons and green energy points on the Alipay ‘Ant Forest’ for each bottle they deposit.

In Indonesia, Unilever utilised ‘Google My Business’, a platform that enables consumers to find the location of nearby waste banks directly on Google Maps. At the moment, almost 800 waste banks are searchable on the digital tool in 18 cities. Unilever aims is to make 2,000 available.

Investing in waste management systems in Asia

Together with other large consumer goods companies such as PepsiCo, P&G and Coca-Cola, Unilever has collectively pledged a total of US$100 million to the Circulate Capital Ocean Fund – the world’s first investment fund dedicated to preventing ocean plastic.

By demonstrating the investibility of the waste management and recycling sectors, Circulate Capital’s aim is to attract the billions of dollars of institutional investment needed to scale companies and infrastructure across South and Southeast Asia. These regions contribute disproportionately to ocean plastic pollution, primarily because they lack the infrastructure to manage the problem.

The fund provides financing to waste management, recycling and circular economy start-ups and SMEs in India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, helping solutions to scale and replicate by connecting them to supply chains, including those of the world’s leading companies.

One such investment is Recyckal, India’s first waste-commerce company. Recyckal provides end-to-end digital solutions that connect waste generators, processors, recyclers and brand owners. It also facilitates material flows and transactions across the waste management and recycling value chain.

Developing Holistic Solutions

Four years ahead of plan for India, Unilever will collect and process more than 100% of the plastic packaging it sells.

Since 2018, Hindustan Unilever has facilitated the safe disposal of more than 120,000 tonnes of post-consumer-use waste. In Mumbai, Unilever partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and consulting firm Xynteo to create material recovery facilities. The aim here is to demonstrate the feasibility of inclusive end-to-end waste management solutions.

The company is working with the Education Department of Maharashtra on its ‘Waste No More’ initiative. This is a specially curated digital school curriculum that focuses on the importance of the segregation, collection and safe disposal of waste. The programme reached nearly 100,000 children during its pilot and is currently being expanded across the state.

In a separate collaboration, Unilever Pakistan has partnered with UNDP to make Rahim Yar Khan a zero plastic waste city. The initiative will test solutions to reduce plastic waste and turn it into a resource. The ultimate aim is to create a circular economy system for plastics waste management that can be replicated across the country.

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