Unilever, one of the world's largest grocery companies, has committed to ensuring that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. It has also called on the entire fast-moving consumer goods industry to accelerate progress towards the circular economy.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF), just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, while 40% ends up in landfill and a third in fragile ecosystems. The Australian Packaging Covenant reports the recycling rate for post-consumer plastic packaging in Australia is around 40%.
Architect and circular economy leader William McDonough says the cradle to cradle redesign of packaging is one of the great global design challenges of our time - similar to scaling renewable energy to address climate change.
Unilever, responsible for brands as diverse as Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream to Sunsilk Shampoo, have identified treating plastic packaging as a valuable resource to be managed efficiently and effectively as a key priority in achieving their Sustainable Development Goals, shifting away from a “take-make-dispose” model of consumption to one which is fully circular.
To help transform their 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
In 2015, it achieved its commitment of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across its manufacturing operations. In recognition of this and other initiatives Unilever Australia received the APC award for Outstanding Achievement in Recycling.
Unilever has already committed to reduce by one third the weight of the packaging it uses by 2020. In 2015 their Australian operations redesigned the 500ml Lipton Ice Tea bottle, saving 343 tonnes of PET and 60 tonnes of polypropylene a year.
The company’s activities are guided by the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.
The recycling rate for post-consumer plastic around the world has room for improvement. You can
- Visit RecyclingNearYou to find out what your council recycles.
- If you’ve purchased an item in plastic packaging while away from home look for a public place recycling bin or take the item home to recycle.