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Unilever commits to 100% recyclable plastic packaging by 2025

Unilever has committed to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

The company has invited the fast-moving consumer goods industry to participate in collective action towards a fully circular plastic packaging system and to accelerate progress towards the circular economy.

In an effort to help transform global plastic packaging material flows, 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 (EMF) for another three years and endorse and support 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.
  • 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.

Unilever has already committed to reduce the weight of the 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 per cent by 2025 against a 2015 baseline, both as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

The company reports it achieved its 2015 commitment of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its manufacturing operations.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman said that while plastic packaging plays a critical role in making products appealing, safe and enjoyable for consumers, it is clear that industry needs to do much more help ensure it is managed responsibly and efficiently post consumer-use.

“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,” Mr Polman said.

“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.”

As part of its commitment, Unilever will ensure that by 2025, it is technically possible for its plastic packaging to be reused or recycled and there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material.

Under the plan, treating plastic packaging as a valuable resource which needs to be managed efficiently and effectively is a key priority. Doing so shifts from a ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption to one which is fully circular.

According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), just 14 per cent of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, while 40 per cent 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.

Ellen MacArthur said Unilever’s commitment to ambitious circular economy goals for plastic packaging, will contribute to change and send 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,” Ms MacArthur said.

Architect and circular economy leader William McDonough said the ‘cradle to cradle’ redesign of packaging is one of the great global design challenges of our time.

“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,” Mr McDonough said.

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