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October 7, 2019

Unilever makes new commitment to eliminate “virgin” plastics

Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever has revealed plans to halve the use of "virgin" plastic in its packaging by 2025.

By Dean Best

Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever has revealed new plans to halve the use of plastic in its packaging by 2025 as the debate over the impact on the environment intensifies.

The company said it aims to cut plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and increase the use of recycled plastic instead of using what it calls “virgin plastic”. Unilever added by taking such steps it will become the “first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio”.

Unilever said it is on track to meet 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 in the same time frame.

Part of its pledge includes the greater use of refill or reusable containers. Along that road, Unilever said it had been exploring news ways to eliminate the use of plastics and cited its new Cif Eco-refill, which cuts out 75% of plastic, along with introducing refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent in shops, universities and mobile vending machines in south-east Asia.

Chief executive Alan Jope commented: “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 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.”

Unilever’s commitment will require the business to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025. This will be delivered through investment and partnerships which improve waste management infrastructure in many of the countries in which Unilever operates.

Unilever’s new initiative was welcomed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a UK charity created by the retired British sailor of the same name that works with businesses, governments and other professionals to “build a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design”.  

Its founder Dame Ellen MacArthur added: “Today’s announcement by Unilever is 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.”

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