We're driving our approach through four ambitious commitments that will radically reshape our plastic use.
Our four commitments
By 2025, we will:
- Halve the amount of virgin plastic we use in our packaging
- Help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell
- Ensure that 100% of our plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable
- Increase the recycled plastic material content in our packaging to 25%.
By committing to halving our use of virgin plastic, we're ensuring there's less plastic entering the system – not least as we will make an absolute reduction of 100,000 tonnes in plastic use. And our commitment to collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell requires us to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025. We will achieve this through investment and partnerships to improve waste management infrastructure, purchasing and using recycled plastics, and through participating in extended producer responsibility schemes in which we directly pay for the collection of our packaging.
At the same time, we're working to make reusable, recyclable and compostable plastic packaging the norm so that it can stay in the circular economy. That begins by making it technically possible for all our plastic packaging to be reused or recycled – and demonstrating that there are established, proven examples of it being commercially viable for plastics re-processors to recycle the material.
We launched the first two commitments in October 2019. These complement the latter two commitments, which we made in January 2017. All four commitments build on the progress we’ve been making since we launched our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan in 2010.
Less plastic. Better plastic. No plastic.
To help deliver these commitments we have an internal framework: Less plastic. Better plastic. No plastic. The framework – which we implemented in 2017 – outlines our approach to how we will achieve our commitments and guides our innovation.
'Less plastic' is about cutting down how much we use. Since 2010 we've reduced the weight of our packaging by 20% through lightweighting and design improvements. For example, during 2019 we launched Cif ecorefill – a ten times concentrated refill that means consumers can buy one spray bottle to use for life. Made with 75% less plastic, Cif ecorefill attaches to current Cif Power & Shine bottles. The ecorefill is 100% recyclable once the plastic sleeves are removed. By the end of 2020, we’re aiming for all ecorefill and spray bottles to be made from 100% recycled plastic.
'Better plastics' is about making our products recyclable and eliminating problematic materials. Specifically, it’s about how we get recycled content into our packaging. A number of our brands are incorporating post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic in their products. Some of our packaging is now 100% recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), such as our Cif Active Gel bottles in Argentina. Better plastics is also about working with governments and partners to build infrastructure to keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment. Our Community Waste Banks and CreaSolv® Recycling technology pilot plant in Indonesia are at the heart of these efforts.
'No plastics' is about thinking differently – using alternative materials such as aluminium, glass, paper and board where possible and removing plastic where it is not necessary, such as plastic stiffeners from soap bars. We have sold refills since 2012 and we’re exploring a range of refill-reuse business models. For example, we’re working with Indonesia’s Saruga packaging-free store in Bintaro on their biggest pilot product refillery to date. Since March 2020, people have been able to shop for 11 of our brands, buying as much or as little of the product as they want, using their own containers.
Collaborating to create systemic change
We're putting significant resource into tackling the issues associated with plastic packaging – often in partnership with others.
We’re long-term collaborators with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and their New Plastics Economy initiative. We joined around 250 packaging producers, brands, retailers, recyclers, governments and NGOs in signing The New Plastics Economy Global Commitment in 2018, which aims to create ‘a new normal’ for plastic packaging. And in March 2020, we signed the European Plastics Pact – an initiative that brings together governments, NGOs and business to accelerate progress towards a circular economy where plastic is repurposed and reused rather than simply discarded.
This public–private coalition sees 15 governments and over 70 companies and organisations join forces in pledging to avoid plastic waste across their value chains. All participants have committed to hit four bold targets by 2025, and progress will be monitored and reported upon annually.
But more collaborations are needed if we are to move towards a circular economy. No business can do this alone.