Unilever to halve use of virgin plastic and collect more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025

Unilever has announced it will halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 by reducing plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes, increasing the amount of recycled plastics it uses and collecting and processing more plastic packaging than it sells.

Unilever to halve use of virgin plastic and collect more plastic packaging than it sells by 2025

The collection of more than 600

Unilever, which owns brands such as Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Litpon, is currently on track to achieve existing plastics commitments to ensure all the plastic packaging it uses is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. The company will also use at least 25% recycled plastics in its packaging in the same timeframe.

The new commitment will focus on a reduction in absolute use of plastic packaging and the accelerated use of recycled content. As well as reducing overall use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes by 2025, Unilever will also help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually as part of a bid to recover and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

This commitment makes Unilever the first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio. 

Unilever’s chief executive Alan Jope 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.” 

The collection of more than 600,000 tonnes of plastic packaging annually by 2025 will be facilitated through investment and partnerships in infrastructure and collection processes in the countries in which Unilever operates.

Designing out waste

edie has examined Unilever’s plastics strategy – a three-pillar approach to improving the recyclability of its product packaging, focusing on “less”, “better” and “no plastics” solutions – in depth. Click here to find out more.

The company is also bringing new products to market to design out the use of plastics. The ‘ecorefill’ format, for example, is made using 75% less plastic, by weight, than an equivalent trigger bottle, and is designed to be recyclable in all UK kerbside collections.

Helping consumers to better understand what they can do to reduce plastic waste is also one of the key focus areas of Unilever’s ‘Five Point Plastics Plan’ – a multi-pronged strategy detailing how the multinational will meet its WRAP UK Plastics Pact commitments for 2025. These include eliminating all “problematic or unnecessary” single-use packaging; ensuring all packaging is recyclable, compostable or reusable and achieving a 30% recycled content average across all plastics packaging.

The other four facets of Unilever’s ‘Five Point Plastics Plan’, launched earlier this year as a follow up to its previous three-pronged approach, are reducing plastic; switching to recyclable materials and recycled content; seeking alternatives to plastics and working in collaboration with partners across the value chain.

According to WRAP’s member progress report on the Plastics Pact, other Unilever innovations due to be developed over the next 12 months include bottles made from 100% post-consumer recycled content for its Comfort Ultra Concentrated Fabric Conditioner and Cif Nature’s Recipe Kitchen and Bathroom. This year will also see perforated versions of existing shrink sleeves rolled out across the Unilever portfolio.

Commenting on Unilever’s announcement, 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.” 

Matt Mace

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