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Two Magnum ice cream tubs made from recycled polypropylene. Magnum was the first ice cream brand to use rPP in its packaging.

“Why can’t you cut your use of virgin plastic faster?”

We’re completely rethinking the role of plastic in our business. And this is one of the questions we’re asked most frequently. Here’s our response.

We’ve pledged to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025. The two most important ways we plan to achieve this is by ramping up our use of post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR), and by eliminating over 100,000 tonnes of plastic from our packaging.

We’re making good progress towards these targets, but we’re often asked why we can’t do this quicker.

The opportunities and challenges

PCR is a great alternative to virgin plastic because it will keep plastic out of the environment and in the circular economy. We’re ramping up our efforts here, with more of our brands using PCR all the time.

Having started at 1% in 2018, the most up-to-date figures we have – from 2020 – show that approximately 11% of our total packaging footprint now consists of PCR. This means we’re on track to achieve our 2025 goal of 25%.

Our challenge is to go beyond this goal which means there needs to be enough high-quality, post-consumer recycled materials available. There’s no shortage of plastic in the system – but turning plastic waste into usable material is not straightforward. It relies on the right packaging design, and local collection and sorting facilities.

To recycle plastic, it must be first sorted by type. For instance, HDPE (high-density polyethylene – typically used for bottles of home care products or shampoo) needs to be separated from PET (polyethylene terephthalate – often used in foods packaging) because they are processed differently. That’s not easy, which means in many countries, high-quality PCR is difficult to get hold of and is often sold at a premium.

There also needs to be more investment in waste collection and recycling technologies. This includes processes to transform more plastic waste back into high-quality, food-safe recycled plastic. Currently, this can be done through two processes: mechanical and advanced recycling.

Mechanical and advanced recycling

Mechanical recycling is a physical process that involves melting and reshaping waste plastic to make new packaging. Currently, there are limitations when it comes to using the mechanical recycling process to generate recycled plastic that is safe to use for certain food packaging. With advance recycling there are no such barriers, because waste plastic is broken down to its fundamental building blocks and then reconstructed to make plastic that’s as good as new.

We hope that our commitment, alongside pledges from other organisations, to use recycled content will stimulate the market to produce more, and act as a catalyst to increase the collection and reprocessing of materials.

In North America, we’re investing $15 million in the Closed Loop Partners’ Leadership Fund, to help recycle an estimated 60,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste annually by 2025 – an amount that’s equivalent to more than half of our plastic footprint in the region.

This private equity fund acquires and grows companies across the value chain that are working to increase recycling and keep valuable materials in the circular economy and out of landfills. Our investment will help secure PCR plastic supply for our brands – including Dove, Hellmann’s and Seventh Generation, which already use 100% PCR bottles – and increase access to recycled plastic feedstock processed by the companies that the fund invests in.

Our goal to halve the amount of virgin plastic we use by 2025 is a big ambition. The more others come on board and seek to tackle this together, the bigger impact we can have and help us achieve our vision of a waste-free world.

The different types of plastic:

  • Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR)
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)
  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
  • Polyethylene (PE)
  • Polypropylene (PP)

Magnum

Magnum became the first ice cream brand to use recycled polypropylene (rPP) in its packaging, and in 2021, over 750 tonnes of virgin plastic were cut, with a further ambition to introduce these fully recyclable tubs across all global markets by 2025. It’s challenging to source mechanically recycled food-grade packaging, so we use an innovative process that transforms plastic waste into a resin with the same characteristics as virgin food-grade resin. This allows us to recycle mixed plastic waste that would otherwise be destined for incineration or landfill.

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Hellmann’s

All Hellmann’s mayonnaise plastic jars and squeeze bottles in the US, Canada, Mexico and some parts of Europe are now made from 100% recycled plastic and are themselves recyclable. Following the launch in Mexico in 2019, Hellmann’s became the first dressings brand in the US to make the switch to 100% recycled bottles and jars. And we also led industry change in Europe and Canada as the first to transition to PCR packaging. This has cut our use of virgin plastic by more than 14,000 tonnes per year.

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Dove

In 2019, Dove launched one of the largest plastic reduction programmes in the global beauty industry. This included making single packs of its iconic beauty bar plastic-free globally and switching to new 100% recycled plastic bottles where technically feasible in North America and Europe. By taking these steps, Dove became one of the biggest brands in the world to move to 100% recycled packaging. We hope this sends a clear signal that there is a huge consumer demand for recycled packaging.

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Dirt is Good

With various product launches in 2021, we’re now using PCR for our Dirt is Good (DiG) brands across all regions where they are sold. These brands are OMO, Persil, Skip and Surf Excel, depending on where you live. By 2025, we will maximise our use of PCR in DiG bottles, with an average inclusion level of 60% globally and 100% where possible. The biggest challenge in shifting to PCR is being able to get high inclusion levels within all pack designs and sizes, but we’re working on that.

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Knorr

Using the same groundbreaking technology as for the Magnum tubs, we have developed new containers and lids for our Knorr bouillon powder. The rPP can be reprocessed infinitely, as the closed-loop recycling method preserves the quality of the material, thereby reducing the need for virgin plastic. We’re aiming to produce about 1 million of these containers. That equates to saving approximately 2,000 tonnes of virgin plastic in Europe alone.

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Our plastic targets

By 2025 we will:

  • Halve the amount of virgin plastic we use in our packaging and achieve an absolute reduction of more than 100,000 tonnes in plastic use
  • Help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell
  • Ensure that 100% of our plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • Increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic in our packaging to at least 25%.

Discover more about how we’re rethinking plastic packaging