Published: Tue, October 08, 2019
Markets | By Otis Pena

Unilever to halve use of new plastic as uproar over waste grows

Unilever to halve use of new plastic as uproar over waste grows

British-Dutch multinational consumer goods giant Unilever has announced ambitious plans to significantly cuts its plastics usage and ramp up its recycling endeavours.

Unilever has promised that by 2025 it will halve the amount of virgin plastic - plastic that has not previously been used or processed - by reducing its total use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic. Jope however said the company was planning to reduce the number by encouraging use of recycled plastic and by producing reusable bottles, along with other alternative materials.

CEO Alan Jope maintains that plastic is still a "terrific material", saying many of its alternatives are worse: "A hysterical move to glass may be trendy but it would have a terrible impact on the carbon footprint of packaging".

Convenient for the consumer - a catastrophe, say environmentalists, for the planet. It is going to take more than just the industry to effect a reduction in plastic waste, says Jope.

The company plans to set its 2018 plastic use as a baseline. 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.

Jope said Unilever was fundamentally rethinking its approach to packaging and product development as it tried to become more sustainable.

It added that it will help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells, thereby creating a circular economy.

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At present, Unilever's plastic packaging footprint is around 7,00,000 tonnes annually.

The push by consumer goods makers to reduce their use of plastic comes amid mounting pressure from governments for them to act.

The new targets also include a pledge to collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025, which will be delivered through investment and partnerships that improve waste management infrastructure, primarily in countries that now lack widespread recycling services. "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", he added. Our plastics is our responsibility and so we are committed to collecting back more than we sell, as part of our drive towards a circular economy.

Several other major companies have made similar pledges: Procter & Gamble, makes of Fairy and Lenor, said earlier this year it would also halve use of plastic by half by 2030.

And we know that plastic recycling has not yet caught on around the globe.

"Now we need to work with manufacturers to change the way they design things in the first place", he said. It also means that Unilever will buy more recycled plastic itself, increasing demand for recycling. It also highlighted initiatives such as its introduction of shampoo bars, cardboard wrapped deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes.

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