It has also committed to making sure there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material.
The move by the multinational comes following a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) noting that just 14% of the world’s plastic packaging ends up in recycling plants, while 40% goes to landfill sites and a third in fragile ecosystems.
Unilever is also calling on the wider industry to follow its lead, with Paul Polman, CEO, stating: “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.”
Details of the pledge
With the aim of ‘helping 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 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
According to the EMF, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish. Unilever has noted its new pledge looks particularly to tackle ocean waste.
“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,” Polman says.
“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.”
Circular plastic packaging
The EMF notes that experts have called the cradle-to-cradle redesign of packaging ‘one of the great global design challenges of our time - similar to scaling renewable energy to address climate change’.
Ellen MacArthur said: "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."