Tupperware Brands Corp., Orlando, Florida, debuted its reusable Eco Straw in select markets last year. The product was the first in the company’s portfolio to be manufactured using Eco+, which the company describes as “circular polymers” made by depolymerizing mixed plastics to produce high-quality food-grade plastic.
Since the Eco Straw’s introduction last year, Tupperware has expanded its use of Eco+ and is also testing bio-based materials in its products and packaging as part of its No Time to Waste campaign, which seeks to significantly reduce plastic and food waste by 2025.
No time to waste
Bill Wright, Tupperware Brands executive vice president, product innovation and supply chain, says the company's products provide an alternative to “throw-away plastic.” The 74-year-old company, he adds, was “sustainable before sustainable was in vogue,” manufacturing products that are designed to be durable, high quality and reusable and that help to keep food fresh longer.
Wright says the company’s No Time to Waste campaign, which was launched in 2019, is focused in four areas: engage, design, produce and reuse.
Under the engage pillar, Tupperware has joined the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastic Economy Global Commitment, committing to a set of concrete targets to create a circular economy for plastics by 2025 and to report its progress. The company also has partnered with World Central Kitchen, a global nonprofit founded by chef José Andrés that is centered on reducing the impact of single-use plastics in disaster relief efforts by providing in-kind reusable Tupperware products and logistical support, he says.
Under the design pillar, the company is prioritizing product design and material innovation in the form of circular or bio-based polymers, Wright says, adding that Tupperware invests $17 million to $18 million per year in research and development. The company says its products will continue to be designed for increased reusability and will be marketed and demonstrated in ways that increase users' sustainable practices.
Under its produce pillar, Tupperware says it will eliminate the use of single-use plastic packaging for its products by 2025 while also reducing waste, increasing renewable energy and limiting the amount of water used in its operations. This year alone, Wright says, the company reduced its use of plastic packaging by 30 percent. By 2022, Tupperware is targeting a 50 percent reduction. Tupperware Brands also is pursuing zero waste to landfill by 2025 across all its operations. Wright says the company is well-ahead of its goal, having reached zero waste to landfill at 11 of its 13 manufacturing locations.
In the area of reuse, Tupperware Brands is committed to offering single-use plastic alternatives and to enhancing the return process for all Tupperware products, Wright says. By 2025, the company wants to recycle and repurpose 90 percent of its returned products. These items will be processed in-house for use in its Recycline products or through toll arrangements, he adds.
The company’s Recycline was started in 2011 in Europe to process products that come back from consumers because they don’t use them anymore or because they are defective and returned through Tupperware’s warranty program. Recycline products are sold in Europe, but all Tupperware manufacturing sites recycle Tupperware returns. By virtue of the mechanical recycling process, the company says its Recycline products are not for food contact but are in the home organization category, like paper towel holders and bottle organizers. Also, because the end-of-life products processed by the company are in a wide array of colors, Recycline products are black.
More recent innovation
Despite its use of internally recycled material, Tupperware has not broadly incorporated mechanically recycled plastics into its products. Wright says that while the company “experimented, tested and tried” to use recycled content, it didn’t find material that could meet its quality standards, which he describes as the “cornerstone” of the brand. When Tupperware could get the functionality it needed from mechanically recycled material, it was not food grade, he says.
Enter chemical recycling.
Last year, in collaboration with its long-time supplier SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corp.), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tupperware Brands became one of four companies to introduce ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification) certified circular polymers made from chemically recycling mixed plastics.
SABIC produces its circular polymers from Tacoil, a patented product from U.K.-based Plastic Energy Ltd. that is made from chemically recycling mixed plastics. SABIC processes this feedstock on its production site at Geleen in the Netherlands. SABIC and Plastic Energy are building a commercial plant in the Netherlands to manufacture and process the feedstock, with plans calling for the facility to be online in 2021.
Tupperware is using Eco+ in products that are designed to replace single-use products, Wright says. After introducing the reusable straw last year using a polypropylene circular polymer, the company launched a cup designed to replace to-go coffee cups.
Wright says Tupperware is committed to purchasing additional chemically recycled polymers as SABIC’s production ramps up. “We are looking for opportunities to use Eco+ as industry catches up with demand.”
The material comes at a higher cost than that of virgin material, but Wright says that is “part of our investment in this to live to our promise and reduce our impact on the planet.”
Right now, he says, the biggest issue is securing enough Eco+ material to meet demand. The Eco Straw and Eco To-Go Cups manufactured from the material sold out in a matter of days.
Wright says Tupperware also is in discussions with Eastman, Kingsport, Tennessee, to explore using that company’s chemically recycled polymers.
Tupperware also has had discussions with TerraCycle, Trenton, New Jersey, on establishing a product return program, Wright says. More recently the companies have discussed the possibility of Tupperware supplying packaging for use in TerraCycle’s Loop system, which offers a variety of products in customized, brand-specific durable packaging that is delivered directly to customers, then collected, cleaned and refilled. That program is available in the U.K., in every ZIP code in the contiguous 48 U.S. states and the Paris-metro area, Les Yvelines region and Lille in France.
Wright says if the companies reach an agreement in this area, it will mark the first time that Tupperware has helped to develop a packaging solution for another brand. “It would be a different way to look at Tupperware,” he says. “We have always been the end product and not the packaging.”
All of these discussions and Tupperware’s use of recycled content to this point are helping the company realize the commitment it has made through the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastic Economy “that fulfills our future brand promise and lives up to our brand heritage,” Wright says.