Written evidence submitted by Kimberly-Clark (PW0032)
Kimberly-Clark and its trusted brands are an indispensable part of life for people in more than 175 countries, including the UK. Our 46,000 employees around the world, including over 1,000 in the UK with sites in Barrow, Northfleet and Flint, create products that support people’s most essential needs, from personal care to consumer tissue. Some of our well-known brands include Huggies, Kleenex and Andrex.
We are driven to provide the best for our consumers, our customers and the communities in which we work and live, all while minimising the impact on our planet. We aspire to be at the forefront of the transition to a circular economy – contributing to human and ecosystem health by reducing waste, ensuring the proper management of post-consumer waste and innovating new ways of giving consumers the products they need.
Measures announced so far by the UK Government, including around Extended Producer Responsibility, the Deposit Return Scheme and a Plastic Packaging Tax, are promising initiatives, which Kimberly-Clark believes have the potential to be effective in reducing the production and disposal of new, fossil fuel-based single-use plastics in England. To ensure that these measures are as effective as possible, they must be given the time to succeed, and businesses must be engaged throughout the decision-making process.
As part of Government efforts to further reduce the reliance in England on single-use plastics, there must also be support for innovation around biodegradable and bio-based plastics or alternative materials, and the infrastructure necessary to recycle them in a circular system. Kimberly-Clark is working tirelessly on research and development to facilitate sustainable alternatives to traditional fossil fuel-based plastics and would like to see the Government support further research into the use of bio-based, biodegradable and compostable materials so long as they meet appropriate standards.
In the case of essential personal care products, such as nappies or feminine hygiene products, and consumer tissue products that Kimberly-Clark specialises in producing, evidence suggests these innovative bio-based and biodegradable materials are the best solution given the inevitable contamination of these products with human waste and bacteria after their use. Kimberly-Clark is committed to investing in innovation to reduce the environmental impact of these essential products, and we believe that the Government focus should be on supporting innovation and the infrastructure needed to deliver sustainable end of life routes in line with business investment. We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Government to ensure that post-consumer waste systems do not deter the delivery of innovative materials, but instead create circularity for products with more environmentally-friendly materials.
The Government has rightly been responsive during the pandemic about the need for people to be able to access personal care items, taking measures such as removing VAT from menstrual products and ensuring the free provision of these products in the UK. It would be discriminatory to introduce a tax on baby’s nappies when tax on other essential personal care items has been dropped, and products have been made available free of charge.
Supporting innovation in the private sector will be crucial to encouraging the development and manufacture of good alternatives to fossil fuel-based plastics which are less environmentally damaging. In the area of biopolymers, for example, there is a lot of promising innovation around materials that are bio-based and low carbon, some of which are also biodegradable without microplastics. These materials could represent good alternatives to fossil fuel-based plastics and could play an important role in delivering a circular economy and in reducing waste.
It is important that innovation pathways are supported by Government policy and regulation to enable manufacturers to identify the best alternatives in order to continue to reduce environmental impacts. A regulatory framework where the development and deployment of these alternative materials is encouraged would include the Government investing in infrastructure for organic recovery and the modulation for biodegradable materials of any relevant taxes, fees or charges.
It is also important to note that game-changing innovation does not occur overnight and the journey to the widespread development and deployment of alternative materials must therefore be taken in iterations. The shorter-term alternatives to conventional fossil fuel-based plastic, including bio-based non-biodegradable material and using recycled content from mechanical/chemical sources, have several advantages relating to sustainable production and consumption. For example, the use of renewable resources to produce these more durable bio-materials reduces a product’s carbon footprint, as well as reduces a product’s GHG emissions during its production, thus saving fossil fuel resources by substituting them step by step. The production of environmentally friendlier materials with a lower carbon footprint should not be disincentivised before the next iteration of suitable alternative material can be brought to market.
Kimberly-Clark is taking significant measures to eliminate avoidable plastic waste from our products – 75% of the material in our products will be either biodegradable or will be recovered and recycled by 2030, and 100% of our packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Supporting innovation around this in the private sector can play a key part in making the Government’s target more ambitious. Kimberly-Clark is continuing to innovate with the intention of enabling circularity, which is eliminating ‘waste’.
Essential personal care products should not be dismissed as having end of life routes which cannot be satisfactory. Innovation which promotes the biodegradability or recyclability of these products should be prioritised.
Kimberly-Clark is committed to making 100% of our packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and we have already made considerable progress towards this goal, with 98% of our total packaging and 85% of our plastic packaging already being reusable, recyclable or compostable. In the personal care and consumer tissue industry, the private sector is more than capable of helping the Government achieve its target by 2025. The Government’s ambition regarding plastic packaging for this sector is therefore realistic and achievable, with Kimberly-Clark’s best practice commitment exemplifying this.
In order to drive up the medium-term sustainable management of UK-consumed plastic products, the Government should invest in domestic infrastructure and supporting innovation pathways which enable these products to be processed in the UK sustainably due to better waste-management infrastructure and the deployment of more sustainable alternative materials, instead of having to invest in the potentially unsustainable management of products after exportation.