Unilever finds 'reuse' the most difficult part of its 'reduce, reuse and recycle' drive in achieving sustainability goals, looks for ways to make refillables 'really attractive;' company cut its packaging by 4% in 2012, executive says

LOS ANGELES , July 4, 2012 () –

Unilever NV is finding the biggest challenge in achieving its 10-year Sustainable Living Plan has been the “reuse” part of its “reduce, reuse and recycle” drive, said a top company official, reported PackWorld.com on July 2.

“We are finding great difficulty to reuse packaging,” said Garth Neath, the company’s senior VP, Sustainability, in an interview at an April event in Washington, D.C.

The barriers to achieving reuse, such as getting people to use refillables, are unknown, said Neath, “But there is a really big prize if you can overcome them, depending on the category.” Making refillables more attractive might be the way, he said, PackWorld.com reported.

However, the London, England- and Rotterdam, Netherlands-based company has made progress on its goal of reducing the weight of its packaging by one-third by 2020. A year into the plan, it has cut its packaging by 4% this year, said Neath.

Neath said that one of the two steps in its plan is to design products and packaging in a way that makes them easy to recycle, and the other step is to work to improve the recycling infrastructure in countries, reported PackWorld.com.

In an effort to standardize its packaging, Unilever has put one person in charge of reviewing packaging on a global scale. While individual brands can design their packaging, the materials used are “prescribed centrally,” said Neath.

Consumer packaged goods companies have “a huge self interest” in addressing the issue of extended producer responsibility, said Neath. It will be “difficult and awkward to do,” but worse if “the solution” is decided by someone else, he said, PackWorld.com reported.

In the use of biopolymers, Neath said a “really thorough” life cycle analysis needs to be done to determine the sustainability. Using feedstock “that would’ve otherwise gone to feed someone, then we think that’s wrong,” he said.

To establish a baseline to determine progress for its sustainability plan, Unilever spent three years doing life cycle analyses on 1,400 representative products from 14 countries, which accounted for about 70% of the company’s revenues and volumes, said Neath.

The LCA looked especially at water, waste, and greenhouse gases. Packaging falls into the waste category, and consumers worry most about packaging waste, he said, reported PackWorld.com.

The primary source of this article is PackWorld.com, Chicago, Illinois, on July 2, 2012.

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