Unilever’s Commitment to the Circular Economy is Going Straight Ahead

by | Feb 21, 2017

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Unilever commitment to the circular economy is going straight ahead: By 2025, it says that all of its plastic packaging will be either reusable, recyclable or compostable.

“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,” says Paul Polman, Unilever CEO.

“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,” he adds. “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.

Besides committing to the circular economy, it is also renewing its membership of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for another three years and endorsing and supporting their New Plastics Economy initiative. As part of this, it will publish the full “palette” of plastics materials used in its packaging by 2020 to help create a plastics protocol for the industry, it says.

Meantime, it wants to share proven technologies with the industry to prevent plastics from leaking into the ocean.

Unilever says that it has already committed to reducing the weight of the packaging that it uses this decade by one-third by 2020 while also increasing its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline. Both of those initiatives are of The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. In 2015, it says that it achieved its commitment of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its manufacturing operations.

“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,” says Polman. “Ultimately, we want all of the industry’s plastic packaging to be fully circular.”

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, while 40% ends up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems. By 2050, it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. While architect and circular economy leader William McDonough says the cradle to cradle redesign of packaging is one of the great global design challenges of our time – similar to scaling renewable energy to address climate change, Unilever said in a release.

“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,” says Ellen MacArthur. “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.”

“The optimization 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,” adds William McDonough.

It is also good business to act sustainably. In previous Environmental Leader story written by Jessica Hardcastle, Unilever released research that found a third of consumers (33 percent) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. Unilever, she writes, says this represents a potential untapped opportunity of $1,024 billion out of a $2.7 trillion total market for sustainable goods.

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