The scale of the challenge
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.
Treating plastic packaging as a valuable resource to be managed efficiently and effectively is key to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12 (Sustainable Consumption & Production) and, in doing so, shifting away from a ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption to one which is fully circular.
Tackling the issue on a number of fronts
To help transform global plastic packaging material flows, we have made a commitment to ensure that all of our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
We will also renew our membership of EMF for another three years and endorse and support their New Plastics Economy initiative. And as part of this, we will publish the full ‘palette’ of plastics materials used in our packaging by 2020 to help create a plastics protocol for the industry.
Unilever has already committed to reduce the weight of the packaging we use by one third by 2020, and increase our use of recycled plastic content in packaging to at least 25% by 2025.
As part of this new commitment, Unilever will ensure that by 2025, it is technically possible for our plastic packaging to be reused or recycled and that there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics reprocessors to recycle the material.
We need to do more as an industry
“Our plastic packaging plays a critical role in making our products appealing, safe and enjoyable for our consumers,” says Unilever CEO, Paul Polman. “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.
“To address the challenge of ocean plastic waste we need to work on systemic solutions – ones that 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,” he says.
Ellen MacArthur says: "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, adds: “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.”