Unilever has revealed ambitious new commitments to reduce plastic waste and help create a “circular” economy for plastics by 2025.
Unilever, maker of brands such as Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, Vaseline and Lipton in the U.S., said it intends to reduce its virgin plastic packaging by 50% in the next six years, with one-third (more than 100,000 tons) coming from “an absolute plastic reduction” with multiple use packs (reusable and/or refillable), no-plastic solutions (alternative packaging materials or naked products) and reductions in the amount of plastic in existing products.
Unilever also plans to replace any nonrecycled plastic packaging with recycled plastics and said it will measure the total tons of virgin plastic packaging used each year using 2018’s plastic usage as the baseline benchmark. To that end, Unilever said it is committed to having a virgin plastic packaging footprint of no more than 350,000 tons by 2025.
Concurrent to radically reducing the plastics used in its existing product packaging, Unilever also vowed to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells within the next six years.
“Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment,” Unilever CEO Alan Jope said in a statement. “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.” The company is fully committed to ensuring all its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable, he said.
“This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products,” in ways such as developing new and innovative packaging materials and scaling new business models “like reuse and refill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity,” Jope said.
Unilever’s commitment to help collect and process about 600,000 tons of plastic annually by 2025 will be facilitated through investments and partnerships to improve waste-management infrastructure in many of the countries in which Unilever operates.
Sustainability leaders such as Ellen MacArthur, founder of the U.K.-based Ellen MacArthur Foundation, hailed Unilever’s commitment to plastic reduction as “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."
Better plastic has help lead Unilever to pioneer innovations such as a new detectable pigment, which makes black plastic recyclable because it can now be seen and sorted by recycling plant scanners for products such as Axe and Tresemme, and the Lipton “festival bottle," which is made of 100% recycled plastic and is collected using a deposit scheme.
Unilever has brought to the market innovations such as 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.
A video on Unilever’s website addresses the issue of ocean plastic and reaffirms its commitment to helping “make the blue planet blue again.”
“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment,” Jope said. “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.”