One of the world’s biggest consumer goods groups has said it will cut the amount of new plastic it uses in half in six years.
Unilever, whose products include Domestos, Dove toiletries and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, promised to reduce its total use of plastic packaging by 100,000 tonnes a year, to 600,000 tonnes, by 2025. It also plans to speed up its use of recycled plastics in products as part of a target of having 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by the same date.
Unilever, which is the third-biggest consumer goods group in the world, believes that the measures should help it to halve its total use of new plastic packaging from 700,000 tonnes a year to no more than 350,000 tonnes.
The company used 5,000 tonnes of recycled plastics last year but expects that to rise substantially over the next 12 months as it presses ahead with packaging design changes. It said it aimed to use between 200,000 and 250,000 tonnes a year by 2025.
Unilever, which makes more than 400 consumer products, argued that the initiative made it the first global consumer goods company to commit itself to an absolute reduction in the use of plastics across its product portfolio, but campaigners argued that it should have gone further and faster.
Sian Sutherland, co-founder of the campaign group A Plastic Planet, said: “Unilever are one of the few who are showing real intent to turn off the plastic tap and we praise them for it.
“However, Unilever is one of the top five polluters and we want to see them being more ambitious by reducing overall plastic by 50 per cent, not just virgin plastic.
“Recycled plastic is still only one step away from the bin, incinerator, landfill or ocean. It is never going to be our final answer and we need to admit this now.”
Unilever said it would invest in having more reusable or refillable packs for its products as well as cutting the amount of plastic used in its packaged goods. It said that it would also use alternative wrappings or, where possible, put goods “naked” on the shelf.
Alan Jope, the company’s chief executive, writes in The Times today: “We are not against plastic. We think it plays an important role in society. It is light, durable, and is often the safest and most efficient way to get products to the people that need them. But the place for plastic is not in the environment, it’s inside the ‘circular economy’, a big name for the simple idea that resources, including plastic, should never end up as waste.”
Unilever said that greater use of concentrates, for example in washing liquids and cleaners, reduced the use of plastics by 75 per cent. It also highlighted initiatives such as its introduction of shampoo bars, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes. It also said it delivered and collected reusable products from homes to help in meeting its reduction target.