Viridor and Unilever agree five-year contract for recycled plastic

Artist's impression of Virdor's Avonmouth Recovery Centre
An artist's impression of Viridor's Resource Recover Centre in Avonmouth
Viridor and Unilever have agreed a new five-year contract which will see Unilever receive a range of recycled plastic from Viridor’s £65-million Avonmouth Resource Recovery Centre near Bristol.

The recovery centre, which was secured by Recycling and Waste Management company, Viridor, in June this year, is the UK’s largest multi-polymer plastic recycling plant and is powered by energy generated from 320,000 tonnes of waste diverted from landfill at the £252-million energy recovery facility currently located on the same site.

In its first year the Avonmouth plant is predicted to produce 60,000 per annum of high-quality recycled PET, HDPE and PP plastic a year from 81,000 tonnes of feedstock, rising to 89,000 tonnes in year three to produce 63,000 tonnes of recycled material. 

Commenting on the new contract, Keith Trower, Virdor’s Resource Management Managing Director, said: “Viridor and Unilever are committed to helping the UK achieve its recycling and sustainability targets and this contract demonstrates how we are translating that ambition in action.

“To do this in a meaningful way Viridor has acknowledged the UK plastic reprocessing capacity gap and our Avonmouth investment is our response to that market demand. By putting more recycled plastic back into the economy, and powering that process with non-recyclable waste, we are creating a sustainable solution and ensuring consumer brands such as Unilever have access to quality post-consumer recycled material.”

Sebastian Munden, General Manager at Unilever UK and Ireland, added: “Unilever has committed to increase its use of recycled plastic and close the loop on plastic packaging. Limited availability of high-quality recycled content has remained a challenge and that’s why we’re so pleased that our collaboration with Viridor will bring extra capacity on-line in the UK.  This will be essential towards creating a more circular market, as well as contributing to the UK Plastic Pact targets.

“We think that UK citizens will also be encouraged to recycle more if they can see their efforts being rewarded with more plastic going back into new bottles and not ending up in the environment.”

Both Viridor and Unilever, which owns brands such as Dove and Persil, are founding members of the UK Plastics Pact – a voluntary agreement established in April 2018 by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) to drive the UK towards a circular economy for plastics.

The pact saw a range of businesses from across industry pledge to eliminate ‘unnecessary’ single-use plastic packaging and to ensure 100 per cent of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Viridor and Unilever have previously worked together with Nextek Ltd on detectable black plastic packaging for Unilever’s TRESemmé and Lynx personal care brands with trials carried out at Viridor’s Rochester Polymers Recycling Facility in Kent, and last month Unilever announced that it will commit to halving its use of virgin plastic by 2025.

The company claims that it is already on schedule to meet its existing commitment of ensuring that all its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and to use at least 25 per cent recycled plastic in its packaging by this date. The latest contract with Viridor will help towards these goals.

Viridor’s Keith Trower said: “Crucially, this contract also recognises the relationship between UK Plastics Pact partners and how such collaboration is vital if we are to achieve closed loop recycling solutions and achieve the Pact’s goals of 30 per cent average recycled content across all plastic packaging by 2025.”

Viridor has also made steps towards reducing its carbon footprint in line with the Plastics Pact. In September, the company announced that from 2020 it will be processing all of its plastic waste domestically. Prompted by results from the company’s Recycling Index 2019, which revealed that 85 per cent of people surveyed believe that the UK should recycle and reprocess plastic waste at home, rather than exporting it to developing countries for recycling, where it often ends up being improperly disposed.

65 per cent of those surveyed in the Recycling Index said that they are more likely to buy products with packaging made from recyclable material

Viridor’s Managing Director Phil Piddington explained how the Avonmouth Plant is a crucial part of the company’s circular economy commitments and an important next step in its plastic recycling strategy. He said: “Reprocessed plastic uses 50 per cent less electricity than virgin plastic, which is already a very persuasive argument in favour of recycled materials. When we reduce our energy consumption further by tapping in to the low carbon power created through energy recovery, we can achieve even greater sustainability and environmental efficiency.”

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