7 October 2019 - Deborah Wilkes
Unilever has announced “ambitious” plans to reduce its plastic waste and help create a circular economy for plastics.
By 2025, the Anglo-Dutch company aims to “halve 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”.
Unilever said it would invest in multiple-use packs – reusable and/or refillable – and “no plastic” solutions. The company also intends to reduce the amount of plastic in existing packs.
Also by 2025, the company wants to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells. This will require Unilever to collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025.
Unilever said the pledges made it the “first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio”.
The company noted that it was already 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 by 2025”.
Act fast and take radical action
Alan Jope, Unilever’s chief executive officer, said plastic had its place, but that place was not in the environment. “We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle,” he stressed.
“Our starting point has to be design,” he continued, “reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources.”
“This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products,” added Jope. “It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models – like reuse and refill 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,” commented Jope. “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.”
Unilever pointed out that it had been transforming its approach to plastic packaging since 2017 through its “Less, Better, No” plastic framework.
Exploring new options
The company said it was exploring new ways of packaging and delivering products, including concentrates such as its new Cif Eco-refill that eliminated 75% of plastic.
Unilever also highlighted new refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent that had been rolled out across shops, universities and mobile vending in South-East Asia.
Better plastic had led to pioneering innovations, added Unilever, such as the new detectable pigment being used by Axe/Lynx and TRESemmé. This makes black plastic recyclable, as it can be seen and sorted by recycling plant scanners.
The company also drew attention to the Lipton “festival bottle” which is made of 100% recycled plastic and is collected using a deposit scheme.
Unilever also highlighted a number of other developments including shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes.
The company has also signed up to the Loop platform, which is exploring new ways of delivering and collecting reusable products from consumers’ homes.