Owner of well-known household brands including PG Tips, Cif and Colmans, it said it designs all of its packaging across Europe in line with the EUs Essential Requirements Directive. This requires minimum levels of packaging volume and weight and has specific requirements for recovery.
Indeed, at the press briefing update on packaging waste held last month, environment minister Ben Bradshaw hailed a PG Tips re-sealable packet for loose teabags as a good example of packaging.
The company is one of the UKs biggest users of packaging, handling about 150,000 tonnes of packaging a year, of the total 10 million tonnes of packaging placed in the UK market.
Responding to criticism directed at brands for confusing consumers with the inconsistency of their recyclable labelling, UK corporate social responsibility manager Thomas Lingard said Unilevers approach was quite straightforward.
Where we believe that symbols and logos can be helpful to consumers, we try to include them on pack. Where we believe that such logos and symbols will be confusing, we avoid using them, he said.
Take lightweight flexible packaging, for example. While technically recyclable, the recycling facilities are not often available and from a sustainability lifecycle perspective there may be better options for this type of packaging, such as energy recovery, so we would not normally label it as recyclable, in order to avoid potential confusion.
While the company invests in minimising the environmental impact of its packaging, basing its choices on life cycle assessments, it admits that its work in this area is not particularly well publicised.
For many consumers issues of packaging sustainability are still secondary to other aspects of the product such as price, quality, taste in the case of food products, and performance in the case of home and personal care products, so most consumer communications still focus on these areas, Lingard said.