LONDON — Unilever is raising its sustainability game further, promising to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 by reducing its use of the material by more than 100,000 tons and by pressing more recycled plastic into action.
Unilever’s plastic packaging footprint today is around 700,000 tons annually, including the company’s recent acquisitions. As a result of this latest commitment, Unilever is committing to a footprint of no more than 350,000 tons by 2025.
The parent of brands such as Dove, Ponds and Magnum said it plans to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells, and that it is on track to achieve existing commitments. They include ensuring that all plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and to use at least 25 percent recycled plastic in its packaging by that same year.
Unilever said its latest commitment would require the business to help collect and process around 600,000 tons of plastic annually by 2025. This will be delivered, it said, through investment and partnerships that improve waste management infrastructure in many of the countries in which Unilever operates.
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Alan Jope, Unilever chief executive officer, 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.”
He said the starting point has to be design, which “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.”
Ellen MacArthur, founder of the eponymous foundation that promotes a circular economy across a variety of sectors, called Unilever’s commitment “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.”
Since 2017, Unilever has been changing its approach to plastic packaging through its Less, Better, No plastic framework.
The company’s most recent innovations include concentrated formulas, such as its Cif Eco-refill bottles, which eliminate 75 percent of plastic, and refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent, which the company has rolled out across shops, universities and mobile vending in Southeast Asia.
It has also come up with a detectable pigment being used by its Axe brand and by TRESemmé, which makes black plastic recyclable, as it can now be seen and sorted by recycling plant scanners. Previously black plastic was invisible to the scanners and therefore not picked up for recycling.
It has also introduced shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes.