Unilever commits to 100% recyclable plastic packaging by 2025

On the same day that the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) unveiled a business-backed action plan to crack down on plastic waste, global consumer goods giant Unilever has made a bold new pledge to ensure that 100% of its plastic packaging is fully re-usable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

The British-Dutch multinational has also renewed its membership with the EMF for another three years, and given its backing to the Foundation’s New Plastics Economy initiative, which released its second major report earlier today (16 January).

“Our plastic packaging plays a critical role in making our products appealing, safe and enjoyable for our consumers,” said Unilever chief executive Paul Polman. “Yet, it is clear that if we want to continue to reap the benefits of this versatile material, we need to do much more as an industry to help ensure it is managed responsibly and efficiently post-consumer-use.”

Plastics protocol

The company, whose brands include Dove, Knorr and Marmite, says it will “ensure it is technically possible for its plastic packaging to be re-used or recycled and there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material” as part of the commitment.

As part of the commitment, the firm has also said it will publish the full “palette” of plastics materials used in its packaging by 2020, to help create a plastics protocol for the industry; and that it will invest in proving, and then sharing with the industry, a technical solution to recycle multi-layered sachets – particularly for coastal areas which are most at risk of plastics leaking into the ocean.

“To address the challenge of ocean plastic waste we need to work on systemic solutions – ones which stop plastics entering our waterways in the first place,” Polman added. “We hope these commitments will encourage others in the industry to make collective progress towards ensuring that all of our plastic packaging is fully recyclable and recycled.

“We also need to work in partnership with governments and other stakeholders to support the development and scaling up of collection and reprocessing infrastructure which is so critical in the transition towards a circular economy. Ultimately, we want all of the industry’s plastic packaging to be fully circular.”

System revolutionary

Today’s announcement emulates the wider New Plastics Economy action plan for businesses to recycle and re-use 70% of the world’s plastic packaging – although no specific date for that target has been set.

Commenting on Unilever’s commitment, Ellen MacArthur said: “By committing to ambitious circular economy goals for plastic packaging, Unilever is contributing to tangible system change and sends a strong signal to the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry.

“Combining upstream measures on design and materials with post-use strategies demonstrates the system-wide approach that is required to turn the New Plastics Economy into reality.”

Unilever has already committed to reduce the weight of the packaging it uses this decade by one third by 2020, and increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline, both as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. In 2015, it achieved its commitment of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its manufacturing operations.

This latest pledge comes just days after Unilever it has achieved carbon-neutrality at five of its UK sites after signing a biomethane agreement for the sites’ heating requirements, significantly reducing emissions.

Luke Nicholls

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie