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How global brands are innovating to reduce plastic usage

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Learn how international giants such as Unilever, Nestle, Pepsico, Marico and Amazon are attempting to reduce plastic usage

Bengaluru: Larger global corporations are attempting to innovate and gear themselves towards reducing plastic usage. Brands like Unilever, Nestle, Pepsico, Marico and Amazon are attempting to innovate to reduce plastic usage. These efforts range from using less virgin plastics, manufacturing sustainable packaging to adopting biodegradable materials.

Amazon

Initiatives: Amazon’s initiatives are focused on increasing recycled packaging material for delivery purposes. They are eliminating plastic straws and polystyrene from brick-and-mortar store locations.

Changes: Amazon is working to improve the composition of plastic packaging solutions to ensure the use of more recycled contents. They have switched to smaller plastic produce bags at their Whole Foods stores. They had set a target to increase the recycled content of plastic film bags from 25% to 50% by 2021. For their plastic padded bags, the targeted increase was from 15% to more than 40%. Each year, these improvements are expected to save more than 25,000 metric tons of new plastic.

In North America, they are expected to save 2 million pounds of plastic per year on all plastic rotisserie chicken containers that use 70% less plastic. They are expanding the use of flexible paper-based mailers across Europe and other continents and rolled out sustainable solutions made from recycled paper to keep groceries frozen during delivery at Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods market in the US.

In America, Amazon’s Whole Foods Market was the first national retailer to eliminate plastic straws from cafes in 2019, saving 21 million straws per year. Further, Amazon also removed all polystyrene meat trays from Whole Foods Market locations in the United States and Canada. Amazon’s initiatives are focused on increasing recycled packaging material for delivery purposes. They are eliminating plastic straws and polystyrene from brick-and-mortar store locations.

Marico

Initiatives: Marico’s efforts led them to create the lightest weight plastic packaging for oil bottles and adopt recyclable PET material.

Changes: Marico’s popular Parachute coconut oil HDPE (high density polyethylene) bottles and hair oil PET bottles are the lightest in the FMCG sector as of now after considerable effort and innovation over the years. It also intends to phase out polyvinyl chloride (PVC) usage in packaging by 2022 and have already reached 95% of that target in 2021. The PVC materials are being replaced by PET which can be easily recycled.

In India and Bangladesh, Marico intends to achieve 100% recyclable packaging by 2025. As of now, they use 20% recycled HDPE in household care brands and 50% recycled LDPE (low density polyethylene) in shrink films for secondary packaging of Saffola edible oil.

Nestle

Initiatives: Nestle intends to reduce plastics in packaging by designing reusable, refillable and recyclable packaging. They have transitioned from using plastic-based straws to paper straws, globally.

Changes: Nestle is focused on reducing redundant plastics in packaging material by removing unnecessary packaging parts like tear-offs covering bottle caps and necks. Using this innovation in Egypt, Nestle Pure Life water eliminated 240 metric tons of PVC annually. Nestle also eliminated close to 2300 metric tons of plastic annually by removing over-cap lids from food puree tubs.

Their other project, piloted in the USA, Canada and France, includes reusable and refillable dispensers for uses like pet care and soluble coffee. These containers were designed with in-built RFID (radio frequency identification) to know packaging material composition. Nestle also offers refillable packaging for dairy products. The company engages with major retailers in various countries towards efforts to shift to reusable packaging.

Pepsico

Initiatives: PepsiCo’s innovations centre on sustainable packaging made from non-plastic materials such as aluminium cans, glass bottles and recyclable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) material.

Changes: Pepsico joined the Pulpex consortium, a global packaging technology company, to create and scale the world’s first recyclable paper bottle which is currently in the research and development stage. The bottles are created from sustainably sourced pulp and designed to be recycled through standard paper streams. Pepsico intends to phase out virgin plastics from their branded beverage bottles sold across nine EU countries. The switch will save over 70,000 tonnes of conventional virgin plastics per year and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 40%.

In America, Pepsico chose to change the packaging from plastic to aluminium cans for a sparkling water brand. They are also exploring non-fossil fuel based sources for packaging material that contain plant-based materials, which are safe, efficient and have a lighter carbon footprint than oil-based plastics. They are selling beverages in non-returnable glass bottles that are reusable by consumers.

Procter & Gamble

Initiatives: The multinational corporation is looking to reduce plastic usage by innovating on product packaging, focusing on refillable products and product weight reduction.

Changes: Procter & Gamble (P&G) is working towards reducing the amount of plastic and raw materials in their products by sourcing more effective materials to reduce the average weight of their diapers. The brand has succeeded in decreasing average diaper weight by 18% while fulfilling the same utility. In Thailand, P&G reduced plastic usage with packaging redesigning innovations. They created outer packaging with carton perforations to frame the product’s logo that showed if anyone had tried to open the package prior to sale, thereby replacing plastics materials that earlier worked as a seal. This simple innovation would save up to 8,000 kgs of plastic according to estimates.

In the USA and Canada, P&G launched refillable packages that include one full jar of product with a recyclable refill pod. It also replaced traditional high density polyethylene (HDPE) for the packaging of Tide with cardboard material. This material can be compressed into a shipping-safe package made from 60% less plastic with design interventions to minimise leaks.

Unilever

Initiatives: Unilever seeks to shift to mono-material packaging and reusable spray bottles. They also want to integrate more post-consumer resin into their packaging.

Changes: Unilever has been making changes in processes around the world to accommodate innovation. Unilever is attempting to reduce virgin plastics in Europe and develop reusable bottles and refill packs. These refill packs use 75% less plastic. Customers can use it for refilling and reuse the smaller bottles. Unilever is also increasing their use of recycled plastic and more post-consumer recycled (PCR) resin for their laundry detergent, Persil. The new packs are lightweight, use 650 tonnes less plastic across the range, with the new bottles using up to 70% recycled plastic.

In Vietnam, Unilever is looking to transition from multilayer materials in packaging to mono-material packaging. They launched a trial for recyclable mono-material sachets of shampoo. After use, the recycled material is reused for items like refuse bags and containers.

In America, most black coloured plastic is hard to recycle as sorting machines do not detect black pigments. To fix this, Unilever has collaborated with plastic recyclers to create new pigments that make black plastic products recyclable, to replace black plastics that were not easily detectable by waste sorting machines. Packaging for their black coloured branded products like Axe and TRESemmé have been upgraded according to this technology.

The excerpt is sourced from the report titled ‘Innovation in Plastics: Exploring Potential and Opportunities’ by Marico Innovation Foundation and and Praxis Global Alliance

 

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