The need for an absolute reduction in plastic use is abundantly clear. A recent report by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ – ‘Breaking The Plastic Wave’ – found that ocean-bound plastic is set to triple by 2040 unless radical action is taken.
But solutions do exist. The same report found this amount can be reduced by 80% if major transformational change takes place. So, at Unilever, we’re taking action. In 2019, 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.
Our starting point has to be design. We’re reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We’re aiming to ensure that all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 – and we’re working at an unprecedented speed and intensity to make progress. One solution is refillable, reusable formats, and we’re exploring how to bring those to consumers around the world.
As Chief R&D Officer Richard Slater explains: “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 and pave the way for new solutions such as reusable and refillable formats.
“By adopting a ‘test, learn and refine’ mentality, we’ve developed innovative solutions that will help people cut their use of plastic for good,” Richard adds.
We need bold innovations that challenge existing designs, materials and business models. Our priority is to fundamentally rethink our approach and pave the way for new solutions such as reusable and refillable formats.Richard Slater, Chief R&D Officer, Unilever
New products. New packs. New models.
We’ve appointed dedicated teams to accelerate our work on reusable, refillable formats and we’re investing in pilot programmes all over the world to test their viability. We’ve been learning along the way and refining various models to find out what works for consumers – and for us as a business.
Our partners at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have outlined four models for refillable and reusable consumer products that we agree have very strong potential. All four approaches are informing the pilot projects we are running. We’re also exploring business-to-business models through Unilever Food Solutions which provides products for the hospitality sector.
- Refill at home: where consumers reuse their packaging by refilling at home, for example with a concentrated version that is diluted with water
- Refill on the go: where shoppers refill their containers through dispensing systems in stores
- Return from home: where consumers can arrange for packaging to be collected from their home and refilled
- Return on the go: where consumers return packaging at a drop-off point, and it is collected and refilled by manufacturers
- Business-to-business refills and returns: where hospitality sector businesses can order large refills for professional kitchens
By making refill and reuse formats widely available, accessible, and affordable, we hope to use our scale and reach to drive lasting change. But we can’t do this alone. There’s strength in numbers, and for this to really make an impact, we need shoppers, retailers and governments to see the benefits.
That’s why, for the first time, we’re sharing what we’ve learnt.
Here are some of the initiatives we’ve been working on.