August 16th, 2020 by Johnna Crider
Procter & Gamble (P&G), the parent company of many, many brands that we all use, is aiming for 100% recyclable packaging by 2030 — Downy, Bounce, Pampers, Tide, Gain, Gillette, Dawn dish detergent, Vicks vapor rub, and Mr. Clean are just some of the brands under P&G. Gian De Belder, Principal Scientist at P&G, said, “We are guided by the question: ‘How can we really make a difference in consumers’ lives where it matters the most?’”
P&G noted that it believes packaging innovation has the power to make a difference in CO2 emissions every year. Recycling already saves more than 700 million tonnes of C02 each year. As a part of its sustainability plan, Ambition 2030, P&G wants to achieve 100% recyclable or reusable packaging. It will also cut use of virgin petroleum plastic in packaging by 50% by 2030.
Virgin petroleum is a type of crude oil that has gone through the refining process. It is the most commonly used oil. It is found within a wide spectrum of lubricant products on the market. “Virgin” means that it has not been previously used by humans. Once it’s used, it can go through further refinement to be considered recycled.
“Every time we design packaging, we want to use the minimum amount of material necessary. But we still need to ensure the package is fit for use and pleasing to consumers,” De Belder explained.
What Will Be In P&G’s Packaging?
P&G wants to make sure that recycled goods are sorted accurately so that plastics can be included in the circular economy with a much higher reuse quality. One way it is doing this is through its HolyGrail initiative. This is a type of “intelligent packaging” that has won a few awards. Lenor, Unstoppables, and Fairy brands will be the first to use this type of packaging in Europe. The packages are imprinted with a digital watermark, known as a Digimarc Barcode, which is invisible to the human eye.
De Belder explained why this is important: “Consumers will be able to just scan the pack with their mobile phones, and immediately have all the information they need in order to properly recycle the packaging. HolyGrail opens up a completely new era of thinking in terms of sorting.” This helps the consumer become more receptive to the idea of recycling while empowering them. “This technology has delivered some positive news for packaging after several years of plastic-bashing.”
Another goal of P&G’s is to create value through sustainability by creating a “mega-consortium” of the corporations throughout the value change that supports universal tagging and watermarks that lead to a more circular economy. HolyGrail 2.0, its next phase, has 160 interested parties already and the company hopes to scale this up and create critical mass.
“The good news is that people believe in this technology. We’re seeing a lot of interest from a full-value-chain approach: packaging producers, brand retailers, sorting centers, waste manufacturers, governments, the European Commission – you name it,” said De Belder. P&G hopes to gain support form the government for this initiative. The support, hopefully, will be in the form of a bonus system on extended producer responsibility. Bonuses will go toward what De Belder says is an “incentive for more companies to make the move” to drive their sustainability practices. “By doing so, we see a future where the implementation of sustainable watermarks will be cost-neutral to companies,” he said. “That’s definitely the future.”
This isn’t the first of P&G’s goals in recycling. In 2019, the company collaborated with PureCycle Technologies to perfect a process that recycles polypropylene that is odor-free and snowy white or clear. This makes it highly desirable for manufacturers. The process involves the decontamination and deodorization that started in P&G’s lab. You can read more about that here.
It’s not perfect, but P&G is the parent of a lot of famous brands. If there is better ways to encourage recycling while instilling a sense of empowerment for those recycling, I am all for it. That’s just one downside and if P&G succeeds in meeting its goals, then it’s definitely a step in the right direction — toward sustainability.
It’s hard to break the habit of our dependence on oil. Oil finds its way in many products, ranging from packaging to makeup. Yes, makeup. In 2007, many of the cosmetic industry’s chemical safety studies showed that common petroleum-based cosmetic ingredients may have been contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which causes cancer. That’s just one example. Remember, your skin is the largest organ on your body and it does “eat” what’s on it. When you wear makeup that has petroleum in it, you’re eating that. Many products are made with polyethylene glycol, diethanolamine, and ethanolamine, which are all petrochemicals.
Much more needs to be done, but P&G is making progress.
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