The announcement this week follows the corporation being branded a ‘top plastic polluter’ – alongside Nestle – by Greenpeace earlier this year.
Unilever is now the first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio – pledging also to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.
The corporation says it is ‘already on track’ to achieve its existing commitments to ensure all of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. In addition, it says it will use at least 25 percent recycled plastic in its packaging by that time.
Other products it has created in a bid to slash its virgin plastic use include shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks, and bamboo toothbrushes.
Finally, it has signed up to the Loop platform – which delivers and collects packaging from consumers’ homes, to clean and refill.
‘Eliminate plastic waste’
“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,” Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said.
“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.”
He added: “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 refill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.
“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment. 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.”
‘Growing pollution problem’
While the move has been met with some praise, environmental charity Greenpeace says Unilever must implement systemic change to have a real impact.
“It’s good that Unilever has finally acknowledged that the days of relying on fossil fuels to produce single-use plastic packaging are numbered, and that a fundamental move away from throwaway packaging is required to end the plastic pollution crisis,” Graham Forbes Global Project Leader at Greenpeace USA said.
“While this is a step in the right direction, for a company that uses 700,000 metric tons of plastic annually, Unilever’s continued emphasis on collection, alternative materials, and recycled content will not result in the systemic shift required to solve the growing plastic pollution problem.
“We encourage Unilever to prioritize its efforts upstream by redesigning single-use plastic and packaging out of its business model, and being more specific about the investment it will be making in reusable and refillable alternatives.
“As one of the first global companies taking this challenge seriously, Unilever has the opportunity to lead the sector out of the plastic mess it has created. Multinational corporations that don’t follow suit will become increasingly irrelevant in a world where people aren’t willing to sacrifice a livable planet for the illusion of ‘convenience’.”