Improved packaging design is a major part of aggressive
sustainability plans recently announced by consumer products giants Unilever
and Procter & Gamble.
Both companies say they will dramatically reduce the weight of packaging they use through new design, thin walling, use of concentrated products and reuse of materials.
In some cases, they will also switch materials.
"We will make it easier for consumers to recycle our packaging by using materials that best fit the end-of-life treatment facilities available in their countries," Unilever said in a statement released to the press. Unilever also said it plans to eliminate use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) by 2012 where technical solutions exist.
P&G is also removing PVC from future packaging designs in favor of materials that are easier to recycle, such as high-density polyethylene and polyethylene terephthalate.
Twenty-five percent of P&G's petroleum-based materials will be replaced with sustainably sourced renewable materials by 2020, compared to a 2010 baseline. The company recently announced plans to use renewable, sustainable, sugarcane-derived plastic on selected packaging for its Pantene Pro-V, CoverGirl and Max Factor brands.
P&G developed a bioplastic technology called Nodax polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), but later sold the rights to Danimer Scientific of Bainridge, GA. However, its efforts to develop renewably sourced packaging materials continue. P&G was awarded a patent for a starch-based compound earlier this year.
Unilever does not support use of bioplastics. The company makes this statement in its sustainability plan:
"Bioplastics are derived from renewable resources. But this does not mean that they are sustainable when all the environmental impacts and issues around their growth, production and subsequent disposal are taken into consideration."
Bioplastics also cost more, sometimes significantly more, than petroleum-based plastics.
Unilever also plans to significantly increase recycling of its products. The corporate goal is to boost recycling and recovery rates on average by 5 percent by 2015, and by 15 percent by 2020 in the top 14 countries where Unilever does business. This will require as much as a three-fold increase in recycling rates.
Major customers, such as Wal-Mart Stores, are helping drive sustainable packaging design. Wal-Mart plans a 5 percent reduction in its global packaging use by 2013. Wal-Mart's goal to eliminate PVC is stalled because of technical issues, such as lack of acceptable alternatives for tamper-evident bands, metal-can sealants and meat wrapping.