Unilever Announces Major Plastic Reduction Plan

Henrietta Birchenough squeezes a tube of Marmite onto a piece of toast

Henrietta Birchenough squeezes a tube of Marmite onto a piece of toast

The Anglo-Dutch firm now uses more than 700,000 tonnes of virgin plastic - created using raw materials instead of recycled materials - each year and expects to halve that usage by 2025.

The consumer goods giant expects to deliver a virgin plastic packaging footprint of no more than 350,000 tonnes by 2025 through this initiative. Procter & Gamble for instance announced in April to curb the amount of plastic use by 2030.

The company, which sells Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Dove soap and Knorr soup, said it would achieve this target by cutting its use of plastic packaging by over 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic.

Its move is the latest in a line of major companies that have promised to reduce its use of plastics.

But Unilever's boss, Alan Jope, has told the BBC he plans to slash that figure by using more recycled plastic, creating more reusable bottles and finding other alternative materials. "We encourage Unilever to prioritize its efforts upstream by redesigning single-use plastic and packaging out of its business model".

The company is now responsible for producing 700,000 tons of new plastic a year.

"Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment", Jope said.

The company plans to achieve this through direct investment and partnerships in waste collection and processing in numerous countries where it operates.

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Jope also alleged that alternatives to plastic are worse, "A hysterical move to glass may be trendy but it would have a terrible impact on the carbon footprint of packaging". It's the first major consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its brands, the company noted.

But Mr Jope said responsibility for reducing plastic could not fall to industry alone.

"Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastics we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources".

Swiss group Nestle has made a similar pledge to the one by Unilever, saying that it will make all of its packaging reusable or recyclable, and raising to 35 per cent the proportion of its plastic bottles that is made of recycled material.

Unilever has already started selling products including toothbrushes made of bamboo, and cardboard deodorant sticks and refillable toothpaste tablets.

Over the last five years, Unilever has collaborated with many partners to collect plastics packaging, including the United Nations Development Programme, to help segregate, collect and recycle packaging across India. Unilever has been exploring new ways of packaging since 2017.

It has also introduced concentrated products, such as the new Cif Eco-refill which eliminates 75% plastic packaging, new refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent in shops, universities, and mobile vending systems in South East Asia.

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