“No, less, better plastic”. This is the mission of Unilever, one of the leading companies in the Food & Refreshment, Home, Beauty & Personal Care markets, in the fight against plastic. A complex challenge in which everyone must do their part given that, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s report on the “New Plastics Economy”, only 14% of the plastic packaging used worldwide reaches up to recycling plants and only 8% is actually recycled. Meanwhile, a third ends up in fragile ecosystems and 40% in landfills.
Unilever’s commitment began in 2010 and to date has already given significant results: in less than ten years the impact of packaging in terms of waste has decreased by a third; as of today, 78% of the plastic used in Europe is already recyclable. The objectives are even more ambitious: by 2020 the impact of waste will be halved; by 2025 all the packaging of Unilever products in the world will be completely reusable, recyclable or compostable and 25% of plastic packaging will be converted in recycled materials or PCR (Post-consumer resin, or PCR, is the technical term for recycled plastic).
In this important revolution, Italy plays its part with various projects, among which the most recent and first in scope concerns Carte d’Or. Carte d’Or, leader in the ice cream trays’ world and always recognized as the best alternative to homemade ice cream in trays, changes the world of ice cream by launching a new tray, which is compostable and recyclable since it is made of certified PEFC paper, coupled with a layer of PLA (polylactic acid, or bioplastic obtained from corn waste) which allows it to be waterproof and is therefore suitable for ice cream. The tray can therefore have a “double end of life” because it can be both recycled in paper, entering the classic recovery cycle envisaged by the various Municipalities for this material, and disposed in organic waste, arriving at industrial composting sites to return to being like humus (depending on the rules applied by the Municipality of residence). The change of pack will involve about 11 million trays in a year; each tray will go from a weight of 47.5 grams to one of 36.5 grams, with a saving of 23% on the final weight of the product. The result is a reduction of approximately 520 tons of plastic in just one year. By choosing the new Carte d’Or tray, it will therefore help to remove 43 tons of plastic from the market every month, 10 tons each week. Furthermore, Carte d’Or announced its two-year partnership with WWF Italy and becomes the main partner of the “Plastic Free Beaches” Tour, in the Sea Generation Campaign. The common goal is to work in synergy to inform, raise awareness and involve as many people as possible in specific activities in the territory, including consumers, employees and customers of Unilever in Italy. The first joint action will be the Tour, the summer marathon of cleaning the main Italian coastlines to free the beaches from plastic (to date the waste is present to a greater extent): the first appointment will be held on June 3 in preparation for World Oceans Day (8 June), in which WWF volunteers and Unilever Italy employees will go to clean one of the beaches of the Roman coast.
Moving away from the ‘take-make-dispose’ model is key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SDG 12), specifically target 12.5 on substantially reducing waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse. Moving to a circular economy also contributes to achieving SDG 14, Life on Water, through target 14.1 on preventing and reducing marine pollution of all kinds.
And from a purely economic perspective, discarding plastic makes zero sense. According to the World Economic Forum, plastic packaging waste represents an $80–120 billion loss to the global economy every year. A more circular approach is needed, where we not only use less packaging, but design the packaging we do use so it can be reused, recycled or composted.