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Unilever pledges to halve use of new plastics

Consumer goods giant to push reusable packs, refills and alternative materials and halve usage by 2025

Unilever is to slash it use of virgin plastic by creating greener versions of its household products, a shift that could make shampoo refill stations, cardboard deodorant sticks and toothpaste tablets the norm at the supermarket.

The consumer goods giant, which owns more than 400 brands including Dove, Comfort and Sure, currently uses 700,000 tonnes of plastic each year and has pledged to halve that figure by 2025. To get there it will cut its absolute usage by 100,000 tonnes – by switching to selling reusable packs, concentrated refills and using alternative materials, including recycled plastics in its containers – and start collecting more packaging than it uses to help create a circular economy for recycled plastic.

Its chief executive, Alan Jope, said: “Plastic has its place but that place is not in the environment. 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.”

As concern grows about the impact of single-use plastic on the environment, manufacturers and retailers have begun to tackle their substantial footprints. Last month, Sainsbury’s said selling milk and fizzy drinks in returnable glass bottles was an option as part of its plastic reduction drive, while Tesco will ban brands that use excessive packaging from its stores from next year.

Jope said Unilever was fundamentally rethinking its approach to packaging and product development as it tried to become more sustainable. “It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like reuse and refill formats,” he said.

Unilever has already started changing its product range, introducing concentrates such as Cif refills (so spray bottles can be reused) and wrapper-less multipacks for its Solero ice-cream lollies. The multinational, which owns the TRESemmé, Surf and Signal, is also testing refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent in south-east Asia. Shampoo bars, toothpaste tablets and cardboard deodorant sticks have also been added to its repertoire.

Jope added: “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.”

Unilever said that come 2025 it expects to be collecting and processing around 600,000 tonnes of plastic a year – equal to its reduced overall footprint, and to be using no more than 350,000 tonnes of virgin plastic. To manage the waste mountain the company will invest in or form partnerships in the waste-handling industry and has already collaborated on a number of projects, including in Indonesia where it has helped establish close to 3,000 waste banks.

Paula Chin, a sustainable materials specialist at the UK arm of World Wide Fund for Nature, said businesses, producers and governments needed to take more responsibility for the problem.

“Plastic pollution is the most visible example of the environmental crisis we’re facing,” she said. “Eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into our seas every year killing our precious wildlife, from local beaches to the frozen Arctic. The natural world isn’t a luxury – it is our life support system, and we must act now to protect it before it’s too late.”

 

This article was originally published on theguardian

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