Unilever has announced landmark plans to ensure all its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, in a move it said would accelerate progress towards a circular economy.
The company said treating plastic packaging as a valuable resource to be managed efficiently and effectively was a key priority in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 12 (sustainable consumption & production) and shifting away from a ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption to one that is fully circular.
Unilever has committed to:
• Ensure all of its plastic packaging is designed to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
• Renew its membership of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for another three years and endorse and support its New Plastics Economy initiative. This will see Unilever publish the full “palette” of plastics materials used in its packaging by 2020 to help create a plastics protocol for the industry.
• Invest in proving, and then sharing with the industry, a technical solution to recycle multi-layered sachets, particularly for coastal areas, which are most at risk of plastics leaking into the ocean. As part of its commitment. Unilever said it would ensure that by 2025, it is technically possible for its plastic packaging to be reused or recycled and there would be established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material.
The announcement comes on top of Unilever’s commitment to slash the weight of packaging it uses this decade by one third by 2020, and increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline, under its so-called Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
“Our plastic packaging plays a critical role in making our products appealing, safe and enjoyable for our consumers. Yet it is clear that if we want to continue to reap the benefits of this versatile material, we need to do much more as an industry to help ensure it is managed responsibly and efficiently post consumer-use,” said Unilever CEO Paul Polman.
“To address the challenge of ocean plastic waste we need to work on systemic solutions - ones which stop plastics entering our waterways in the first place. We hope these commitments will encourage others in the industry to make collective progress towards ensuring that all of our plastic packaging is fully recyclable and recycled. We also need to work in partnership with governments and other stakeholders to support the development and scaling up of collection and reprocessing infrastructure which is so critical in the transition towards a circular economy. Ultimately, we want all of the industry’s plastic packaging to be fully circular.”
Dame Ellen MacArthur, said: “By committing to ambitious circular economy goals for plastic packaging, Unilever is contributing to tangible system change and sends a strong signal to the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry. Combining upstream measures on design and materials with post-use strategies demonstrates the system-wide approach that is required to turn the New Plastics Economy into reality.”
Architect and circular economy leader William McDonough added: “The optimisation of packaging and plastics is so timely and important that all the people, communities and companies involved - suppliers, producers, retailers, customers and consumers - can work together now, with common values and purpose, to create and share beneficial value for generations to come.”