The example of plastic waste illustrates this speed of change and the consequent requirement for business flexibility.
Back in 2010, we knew that it was critical to minimise our own waste and encourage consumers to do the same. However, we could see that recycling capacity was limited.
For these reasons, right at the outset of our USLP journey, we included a commitment to reduce the weight of our packaging by a third and to halve the waste associated with the disposal of our products.
Working in partnership with industry, governments and NGOs, we aimed to increase recycling and recovery rates on average by 5% by 2015 and by 15% by 2020 in our top 14 countries.
A decade ago, these felt like genuine stretch targets. Today, this appears less true. Not only has the use of plastic packaging expanded, but our understanding of the size and impact of plastic pollution has also altered dramatically.
Matt Demorais, Corporate Affairs Director and one of our plastic experts, points to a seminal report published in 2016 by the World Economic Forum, with input from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. In the ‘New Plastics Economy’ the systemic problems with plastic were laid out in full for the first time.
“The challenges of recycling infrastructure in emerging markets; the implications that different materials have on packaging recycling; the need for new-look business models to kickstart a reuse economy – all these issues were presented holistically in a way not really seen before,” he notes.
Not only had it become clear by this date that the issue of plastic waste was ever more pressing, but it was also evident that our initial goal was no longer good enough: it needed to be more specific about what we were aiming for.
So, back in 2017, we announced a bold new commitment to ensure all our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. We followed this up last year with and even greater ambition in the form of two additional 2025 pledges: first, to halve our use of virgin plastic (including an absolute reduction of more than 100,000 tonnes); and secondly, to help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell.
We could have “kicked the can down the road”, says Matt. “But, as our knowledge base grew and we developed more holistic solutions, the only responsible choice was to adapt our direction of travel and level of ambition.”