A year ago, we pledged that by 2025 we would halve the use of virgin plastic in our packaging and remove more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic entirely.
“Throwaway culture and business models continue to dominate our lives and damage our planet,” says Unilever CEO Alan Jope.
“Despite challenging conditions, we must not turn our backs on plastic pollution. It is vital for us, and for the rest of the industry, to stay the course, cut the amount of plastic we use and rapidly transition to a circular economy.”
Despite challenging conditions, we must not turn our backs on plastic pollution.Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever
Of course, 2020 has been a year quite unlike any other. But one thing that hasn’t changed is our focus on meeting the goals we set. And we’re pleased to report that we’re on track to deliver on our promises.
- Post-consumer recycled plastic (PCR) now accounts for more than 10% of Unilever’s plastics footprint. This represents a significant increase from 2019 and is solid progress towards our goal of using at least 25% PCR by 2025. We also expect our use of PCR to double in the next 12 months.
- We are using alternative materials to plastic where appropriate, such as our new recyclable paper-based ice cream tubs, which will save about 4,500 tonnes of plastic.
- We continue to test new business models for refillable and reusable packaging. We have appointed dedicated teams to accelerate work in this space, and we’re sharing our findings publicly.
- And we have developed country-specific plans to achieve our goal of collecting and processing more plastic packaging than we sell.
Less plastic. Better plastic. No plastic
Our plans to cut plastic waste are underpinned by a clear framework: we’ll use less plastic, better plastic and no plastic at all.
Our ‘less plastic’ projects include smaller packs that, when diluted with water, deliver just the same big results as standard sizes. Among them are ultra-concentrated laundry detergent packs from Comfort that have a smaller dosage than any other product on the market. We’ve also launched concentrated shampoos and conditioners from Love Beauty and Planet which provide the same number of uses, and half the usual amount of plastic.
Our work to use ‘better plastic’ includes Dove’s move to 100% recycled bottles across Europe and North America. OMO (Persil) has launched 100% recyclable, 50% PCR bottles of laundry liquid, boosted with plant-based stain remover – an innovation that’s part of our Clean Future initiative to reduce the carbon footprint of cleaning and laundry brands. Meanwhile, Magnum is introducing 7 million ice cream tubs made from food-grade recycled plastic.
Our ‘no plastic’ initiatives are gathering pace, too. Home care brand Seventh Generation has launched a zero-plastic range sold in cardboard shell packs. Tea brand PG Tips has launched biodegradable teabags and will be completely plastic-free by 2021. And in Chile, we have launched a successful pilot programme in partnership with sustainability start-up Algramo, allowing consumers to order refills of our home care brands via an app and have them delivered to their home by tricycle.
Collecting and processing plastic
We’re also working to reduce plastic pollution by helping to collect and process plastic packaging.
We’re working with partners in multiple countries to do so. This includes direct investments and partnerships in waste collection and processing, building capacity by buying recycled plastics, and supporting extended producer-responsibility schemes in which we directly pay for the collection of our packaging.
In India, for example, we are working with the United Nations Development Programme to protect the livelihoods of informal waste collectors, who help segregate, collect and recycle packaging. The partnership has reached more than 33,000 households and collected 2,500 tonnes of plastic waste so far, and will scale up to include more households in the coming years.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, we have supported communities in 18 cities to develop systems where they can collect and sell waste. We’re using a platform called ‘Google My Business’, which enables consumers to access the locations of nearby waste banks via Google Maps. Currently, 289 waste banks are searchable on the digital tool, and the aim is to make 2,000 waste banks available through Google Maps by the end of 2020.
Taking steps towards a refill–reuse revolution
As part of today’s update, we’re sharing our learnings on refill–reuse models for the first time. Further innovations include OMO concentrates, which saw 30% of OMO 3l bottle consumers in Brazil switch to a refillable format, and Cif’s Ecorefills which have saved 171 tonnes of plastic, and are now going global.
We’ve trialled and tested several different refill–reuse methods in the past year, and it’s clear there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. We favour simple systems that minimise barriers to entry and limit the behaviour changes consumers need to adopt. Our pilots will help us identify and scale solutions that work best.
We’ve consolidated our research, pilot projects, successes and lessons learnt, and we’re bringing it all together in a dedicated page here on Unilever.com.
“To tackle the root causes of plastic waste we need to think differently about packaging. We need bold innovations that challenge existing designs, materials and business models. Our priority is to fundamentally rethink our approach to packaging, and pave the way for new solutions such as reusable and refillable formats,” explains Richard Slater, Unilever’s Chief R&D Officer.
“By adopting a ‘test, learn and refine’ mentality, we’ve developed innovative solutions that will help people cut their use of plastic for good.”
“It’s still early days. But by making refill and reuse formats more widely available, accessible, and affordable, we hope to use our scale and reach to drive lasting change.”