Unilever has unveiled new plans that include halving the company’s use of virgin plastic by 2025.
The company also hopes to help collect and process more plastic packaging that it sells, reduce its complete use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 and accelerate its use of recycled plastics.
The owner of brands that include Cornetto, Ben & Jerry and Cif announced the ambitious commitments today (Monday Oct 7), making it the first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its entire portfolio.
Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, said: “Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment. We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle.
“Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
“This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.
“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment. Our plastic is our responsibility and so we are committed to collecting back more than we sell, as part of our drive towards a circular economy. This is a daunting but exciting task which will help drive global demand for recycled plastic.”
The company is already on track to ensuring all of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to use at least 25 per cent recycled plastic in its packaging, by the same year.
To meet the 2025 target, Unilever must help collect and process around 600,00 tonnes of plastic annually, through investment and partnerships which will improvement the waste management infrastructure in many of the countries Unilever operates in.
Ellen MacArthur, founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, said: “Today’s announcement by Unilever is a significant step in creating a circular economy for plastic.
“By eliminating unnecessary packaging through innovations such as refill, reuse, and concentrates, while increasing their use of recycled plastic, Unilever is demonstrating how businesses can move away from virgin plastics.
“We urge others to follow their lead, so collectively we can eliminate the plastic we don’t need, innovate, so what we do need is circulated, and ultimately build an economic system where plastic packaging never becomes waste.”
Unilever has been minimising its use of plastic packaging through its ‘Less, Better, No’ plastic framework since 2017. The company has explored new ways of packaging and delivering products – including concentrates, such as its new Cif Eco-refill which eliminates 75 per cent of plastic.
Axe (Lynx) and TRESemmé now use a detectable pigment, a pioneering innovation which makes black plastic recyclable, as it can now be seen and sorted by recycling plant scanners. The Lipton ‘festival bottle’ which is made of 100 per cent recycled plastic is collected using a deposit scheme.
As part of the ‘Less, Better, No’ plastic campaign, Unilever has introduced shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes. It has also signed up to the Loop platform, which is exploring new ways of delivering and collecting reusable products from consumers’ homes.
As part of today’s announcement, Unilever has posted a video on its website addressing the issue of ocean plastic and committing to play its part to ‘make the blue planet, blue again’.
In Unilever UK & Ireland, progress towards these targets is accelerated under the company’s five-point plastic plan, #GetPlasticWise, which rethinks plastics in products, and strives to keep plastics within their plastic economy, not in the environment.
Last year, Unilever UK & Ireland became a founding member of The UK Plastics Pact, an initiative, led by WRAP, which aims to transform the plastic packaging system in the UK.
Over the last five years, Unilever has collaborated with many partners including the United Nations Development Programme, to help segregate, collect and recycle packaging across India. In addition, it has helped to establish almost 3,000 waste banks in Indonesia, offering more than 400,000 people the opportunity to recycle their waste. In Brazil, Unilever has a long-running partnership with retailer Grupo Pão de Açúcar to help collect waste through drop-off stations.