A year ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos, a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum found that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80 billion-$120 billion annually, is lost to the economy after a short first use. This challenges the world to drive greater recovery and reuse of plastics, and create solutions that see that plastics never become waste.
During this year's Davos, Procter & Gamble announced that it has teamed up with us at TerraCycle and SUEZ, the largest waste management company in Europe, to source, develop and put out the first fully recyclable shampoo bottle made from up to 25% recycled beach plastic for the world’s number one shampoo brand, Head & Shoulders. The first 150,000 bottles will be available in France this summer, making it the world’s largest production run of recyclable shampoo bottles made with beach plastic, and a major step in establishing a unique supply chain that supports a new plastics economy.
Working directly with thousands of volunteers and hundreds of NGOs and other beach cleanup organizations, TerraCycle sources the shipments of rigid plastics collected through beach cleanup efforts, capturing these materials for recycling for the first time, at no cost to participants. TerraCycle’s partnership with SUEZ tackles logistics (collection and shipment) and processing (separation and material pelletization) of these mixed plastics so they can be used as recycled raw material.
The scale of the beach plastics project focuses on the goal of incorporating more post-consumer recycled content (PCR) across other P&G brands and globally, inspiring other world entities to do the same. P&G has been using PCR plastic in packaging for over 25 years, last year using over 34,000 metric tons, and its Hair Care division is projected to see half a billion bottles per year include 25% PCR by the end of 2018. Today’s announcement is an important step in P&G’s mission to meet the Corporate 2020 goal of doubling the tonnage of PCR used in plastic packaging.
P&G, using the programme created by TerraCycle and SUEZ as a sourcing method, not only creates a market for recycled plastics, but a sustainable supply chain designed to feed back into itself. This collaborative partnership is a milestone in how organizations can look to partner up in order to deliver major environmental changes across industries.
The benefit of putting forth the resources to divert plastics from landfills and create a market for them in the value system is many-fold. Approximately 10–20 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans each year. These include microplastics, which result in an estimated $13 billion a year in losses from damage to marine ecosystems (not to mention the severe degradation to natural capital suffered by animals and their habitats) and financial losses to fisheries and tourism. If things don’t change, we are projected to see more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.
Of the more than 300 million tons of new, virgin plastic produced globally per year, it is estimated that up to 129 million tons (43%) of the plastic used is disposed of in landfills; in the United States, the EPA’s most recent report places the plastics recovery rate for recycling at 9%. Linear solutions for plastic waste miss out on opportunities to capture and use these resources, reinforcing our dependence on fossil fuels and incurring an avoidable degree of structural loss.
The interesting thing about beach plastic is that there is so much of it, and companies like P&G see the ROI potential for harnessing those resources and rolling out their own sustainability initiatives. When consumer goods companies make the commitment to put out products made from non-virgin raw material, it creates a circular system that can be nurtured and expanded for sustainable growth and positive impact.