Unilever Makes Boldest Promise Yet on Reducing Plastics

British/Dutch consumer products giant Unilever announced on Monday that by 2025 it will “make the blue planet blue again” by:

  • Cutting in half its use of virgin plastic, by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic;
  • Helping to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

Unilever was already an industry leader in reducing its plastic use — it is on track to achieve its existing commitments to ensure all of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to use at least 25% recycled plastic in its packaging, also by 2025.

Why This Matters:  Unilever is making these moves unilaterally and not because it is forced to by government regulation.  Their products are some of the most popular in their brand categories — such as Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Dove skincare products.  As a result, Unilever will have a virgin plastic packaging footprint of no more than 350,000 tons by 2025.  And this sort of reduction is urgently needed — as evidenced by the amount of plastic in our environment everywhere — the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published the latest tragic photos — this time of a dead baby sea turtle that washed ashore in Boca Raton with 04 pieces of plastic in its stomach.

How Will Unilever Do It

Since 2017, Unilever has been implementing its ‘Less, Better, No’ plastic framework.  They have worked to reduce plastic by looking at new ways of packaging and delivering products – including concentrates, such as its new Cif Eco-refill which eliminates 75% of plastic, and new refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent rolled out across shops, universities and mobile vending in South East Asia.

Ellen MacArthur, Founder, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, hailed the announcement calling it 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.

Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, 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.”

Photo: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center via South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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