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'Unprecedented Collaboration' Needed for Unilever's Waste-free World Commitment

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Unilever has committed to "an absolute plastics reduction" across its portfolio and to creating a circular economy for plastics. 

The consumer goods giant has stated that by 2025 it will:

  • Halve its use of virgin plastic, by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic.
  • Help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

According to Unilever, it is 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, CEO of Unilever, stated, "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."

While commitments of this sort are undoubtedly a much-needed step in the right direction, the collection of waste is critical to ensure the success of these corporate plans. 

In response to Unilever's pledge, Conrad B. MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow, gave the below statement:

“As You Sow salutes Unilever for committing to totally eliminate 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging and increase the use of recycled plastic content by 2025. This commitment builds on a 2017 commitment made by the company, following engagement with As You Sow, to make all packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025.

“Subsequently, As You Sow asked the company to go further in dialogue with investor allies who comprise the Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance. We asked Unilever to set plastic use reduction goals. The company has clearly responded with an ambitious plan. We also asked it to develop alternatives to plastic packaging, which it appears to be doing by performing a ‘fundamental rethink’ in its approach to packaging, exploring reuse, and refill delivery systems.

“However, meeting these recycled content collection goals will require unprecedented collaboration among stakeholders including governments, consumers, other consumer goods businesses, and recyclers, and greatly increased funding. We look forward to receiving more details on how this will be implemented. We recently noted PepiCo’s failure to increase U.S. bottle and can recycling rates after eight years of effort. We hope Unilever can learn from the previous failed efforts of others, and undertake unprecedented collaboration with stakeholders, including the aggressive promotion of extended producer responsibility, or similar, legislation in the U.S., where we continue to suffer from embarrassingly low recycling rates.”