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Unilever sets out plans to advance circular plastic economy

Unilever to halve use of virgin plastics and invest in circular plastic economy

British-Dutch multinational consumer goods giant Unilever has announced ambitious plans to significantly cuts its plastics usage and ramp up its recycling endeavours.

By 2025, Unilever has pledged to cuts its use of virgin plastics by 50% through a combination of reducing its use of plastic packaging by 100,000 tonnes each year and increasing the amount of recycled plastics it uses in its processes.

As it stands, Unilever’s annual global plastic packaging footprint is comprised of 700,000 tonnes.

This strategy comes in addition to its commitment to using fully recyclable or compostable packaging, along with its packaging containing 25% recycled plastic, by 2025.

Unilever will also ramp up its plastic collection and processing efforts to exceed the volume of plastic packaging that it sells.

To achieve this, the company will boost investment in waste collection and processing endeavours, accelerate its use of recycled materials in its packaging, and participate in extended producer responsibility schemes that will necessitate the business paying for collection of its packaging.

“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,” said Alan Jope, CEO at Unilever, in the firm’s press release.

“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.

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“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 noted that these moves come as a continuation of its existing efforts in the fight against plastic waste. In collaboration with global partners, along with the UN Development Programme, Unilever has driven more effective recycling infrastructure in India. Alongside these efforts, it has established 3,000 waste banks in Indonesia and thereby enabled 400,000 people to recycle their plastics in the absence of dedicated collections. 

“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment,” added Jope. “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.”

Ellen MacArthur, former record-holder for the fastest solo circumnavigation of Earth and Founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 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. 

“We urge others to follow their lead, so collectively we can eliminate the plastic we don’t need, innovate, so what we do need is circulated, and ultimately build an economic system where plastic packaging never becomes waste."