Veolia and Unilever team up to tackle plastic waste

A new cross-sector partnership will see three years of investment into new technologies to increase the recycling of plastics.

Waste management company Veolia and consumer goods company Unilever have signed a collaboration agreement on sustainable packaging, creating a partnership to build a circular economy for plastic across the globe.

Committing to working together, the companies say, is an acknowledgment that the issue of plastic waste is a ‘shared responsibility’ requiring ‘bold action across the value chain’.

Plastic bottles floating in a river or harbourAs Marc Engel, Unilever’s Chief Supply Chain Officer, explained: “The scale of the plastic waste issue is getting worse, not better, with the production of plastics expected to double over the next two decades. We all have a lot more to do to address this critical issue and we hope that by partnering with Veolia, a world leader in waste management, we can take meaningful strides towards a circular economy.”

Beginning with a focus on India and Indonesia, the partnership will be developing and scaling up waste collection and recycling infrastructure, helping to direct recycled material back into the value chain. This will involve the companies working together to implement used packaging collection solutions, expand recycling capacity and develop new processes and business models.

Unilever is the world’s largest consumer goods company, boasting a huge number of well-known food, home care and personal care brands in its portfolio, including Dove, Persil, Magnum and PG Tips. The company has been taking steps to reduce its environmental impact, committing last year to making 100 per cent of its packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Unilever is also a founding member of the UK Plastics Pact, helping to develop the wider 2025 targets that the Pact signatories are working towards: to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic, to ensure that 70 per cent of packaging is recycled or reprocessed, and to have 30 per cent recycled content in all packaging within the next seven years.

Meanwhile, Veolia has produced a study in partnership with plastic recycling company RECOUP, which reveals that consumers could be willing to pay extra to see more recycled content in their products. However, the report acknowledges that recycling and recovery infrastructure needs to be vastly improved in order for recycled plastics to be made more affordable and widely available in the UK.

While Veolia previously said it will be investing £1 billion in the UK’s domestic infrastructure, its investments overseas through the new partnership with Unilever show an acknowledgment that inadequate waste management in developing countries contributes hugely to the amount of plastic that ends up in our natural environment.

In 2017, a widely quoted report revealed that up to 92 per cent of all plastic in the oceans comes from 10 rivers in Africa and Asia. However, the UK, Europe, North America and other large economies cannot escape their contribution to this plastic pollution as they continue to export their plastic waste overseas, often to countries that cannot properly deal with that waste – showing that plastic pollution is an international problem, requiring international solutions.

Laurent Auguste, Senior Executive Vice-President of Veolia for Development, Innovation and Markets, commented: “There is an undeniable need to transform the current way plastic packaging [at] end-of-life is managed in order to reduce significantly its environmental footprint. It will take a collaboration of a new kind between all the actors of the value chain.

“With this global partnership, Veolia and Unilever join forces in various geographies around the globe and, from the collection to the recycling, take a leadership role to redefine a responsible and sustainable future for packaging”.

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