Unilever has announced plans to cut its use of virgin plastics in half by 2025 in a move which could help boost global demand for recycled material.
The consumer goods giant – which owns brands including Dove and Ben & Jerry’s – yesterday (October 7) committed to reducing its use of plastic packaging by 100,000 tonnes across its entire portfolio over the next five years and accelerating its use of recycled plastic.
In addition, the company said it would help to collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.
The announcement comes as pressure builds on packaging producers and retailers to cut down on packaging amid growing public concern about the environment and government plans to make producers pay more towards the cost of recycling waste packaging.
A consultation on this extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging was launched in February (see letsrecycle.com story).
Unilever said 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, also by 2025.
Alan Jope, chief executive at Unilever, described the move as “radical” and pointed to the development of more reuse and refills.
He 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.
“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. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
“This is a daunting but exciting task which will help drive global demand for recycled plastic”
“This 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.”
The announcement by Unilever comes a month after Sainsbury’s announced plans to halve its use of plastic packaging by 2025 (see letsrecycle.com story)
Unilever’s commitment will require the business to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025.
The company said this would be delivered through ‘investment and partnerships to improve waste management infrastructure in many of the countries in which Unilever operates’. In the UK, the company pointed to its work in pioneering a new detectable black pigment for the bottles used for TRESemmé and Lynx (Axe) brands so they can now be ‘seen’ by recycling plant scanners and sorted for recycling (see letsrecycle.com story).
Mr Jope commented: “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.”
Reaction to Unilever’s announcement came from Suez recycling and recovery UK, which said the government needed to ensure that all packaging producers followed the lead of companies like Unilever.
Chief executive David Palmer-Jones said: “Global producers like Unilever, P&G, Nestle and Coca Cola know that their consumers want to buy products free from unsustainable and unnecessary packaging, so now it’s time for government to act and make good on its commitment to regulate and drive change so all producers play their part to preserve natural resources, and tackle the scourge of plastic waste leakage littering our countryside and polluting the oceans.”
“It’s time for government to act and make good on its commitment to regulate and drive change.”
Mr Palmer-Jones warned that “timetables are drifting” for implementing the government’s Resources & Waste Strategy, which was launched in December 2018.
He said: “We, as a global community reliant on finite global resources, simply can’t afford to delay. The UK recycling, waste and resources sector is ready to invest in the infrastructure necessary to make a more sustainable economy and big producers like Unilever have shown they are willing to make the big decisions needed to move towards a more circular economy and new models of sustainable consumption.
“Now is the time to start delivering on this policy if the Government wants to cement a legacy of achieving the long-term environmental ambitions set out over the past two years.”