Chances Are, Your Shampoo Bottle Will Have Half As Much Plastic By 2025
Today, Unilever—a company that sells products from over 1,000 brands, in 193 countries, to 2.5 billion people around the world—announced that it will use half as much new plastic by 2025.
Considering the company's scale, this commitment will have a big impact: Unilever will have to reduce its plastic use by 4,000 tons a year to halve the 772,000 tons it's currently gobbling through—the equivalent of 386,000 elephants' worth of plastic by weight per year.
But, the company says, its plastic packaging has become its own giant elephant in the room, and something needs to be done about it. "There is a lot of plastic pollution in the environment. And the fact of the matter is—too much of it carries our name," the company writes in a news release.
Unilever's CEO Alan Jope hinted at today's announcement at September's Climate Week NYC conference: "We believe profoundly that brands can be a force for good," he said. "There are 2.5 billion people every day using Unilever brands, and it gives us reach and economic power."
Jope hopes that Unilever can become a model for how businesses can turn a profit while reducing environmental impact. "Sustainable and responsible business is a magnet for talent. I believe it's also going to increasingly become a magnet for investment," he said. "I'm noticing our investors increasingly asking us to run our business for the long term."
Looking forward to 2025, Unilever will reduce its reliance on single-use plastics by offering more refillable and reusable packaging options. It will also aim to sell more unwrapped and waterless products that can fit into smaller containers. (Some initiatives Unilever is already working on include a concentrated at-home refill for household cleaners and ice pops that come without individual plastic wrappers.) Finally, the company plans to use more recycled plastics in its products and invest in initiatives that increase recycling rates around the world, which are currently hovering at a pretty abysmal 9%.
Does this commitment go far enough?
This plan comes on the heels of last month's Greenpeace USA report criticizing large corporations for switching over to plastic alternatives without addressing the root of the packaging problem.
Many brands across the food, home, and beauty space are starting to incorporate more recycled material and plant-based plastics into their packaging. While this is a start, it doesn't really make a dent in the problem since these materials still take energy to produce and could end up polluting our environment. Reformulating packaging to be endlessly reusable—or ditching packaging altogether—is a more meaningful shift.
"It's good that Unilever has finally acknowledged that the days of relying on fossil fuels to produce single-use plastic packaging are numbered and that a fundamental move away from throwaway packaging is required to end the plastic pollution crisis," Graham Forbes, the global project leader at Greenpeace USA said in a statement on today's news. "We encourage Unilever to prioritize its efforts upstream by redesigning single-use plastic and packaging out of its business model."
In other words, companies need to remember that plastic packaging never really goes away and start selling their products in vessels that are destined for the trash—or even recycling—bin. How Unilever goes about achieving its goal will definitely influence how other polluters start to reformulate their packaging, so hopefully the focus is on truly circular solutions.
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