Unilever to Halve their Use of Virgin Plastic—and That’s a Big Step

The consumer goods giant plans to reduce 110,000 tons of plastic from their products by 2025 and invest in waste collection and a more circular economy.

Plastic pollution is one of the most visible threats facing our ocean today. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic enter our ocean on top of the 150 million metric tons that are already there, posing significant threats to those who call the ocean home. Cleanup efforts like the International Coastal Cleanup have a role to play in getting plastic out of our ocean; but we urgently need to keep it from getting there in the first place, too.

Last week, consumer goods giant Unilever took a big step in that direction. Unilever, which owns hundreds of household brands including Dove, Hellman’s and Lipton, committed to halving the amount of virgin plastic (plastic that isn’t from a recycled source) by 2025, aiming to remove 110,000 tons of plastic from their products by using reusable and refillable packaging, or removing plastic packaging altogether. They’ve committed to collect and process more plastic packaging than they sell, and have also promised to invest in waste management infrastructure in countries throughout the world—all in the name of keeping plastic out of our ocean.

There is a lot of plastic pollution in the environment. And the fact of the matter is—too much of it carries our name. That is not OK with us. – Unilever, unilever.com

This is exactly the type of comprehensive action we’re looking for from the private sector. I’ve written before that our recycling system is broken; and businesses and companies need to help fix it by ensuring that the products they’re putting into the marketplace can be captured, returned and reused or recycled.

Recyclability isn’t enough. We need reduction of plastic and, where reduction isn’t an option, greater recycled content. As my colleague Emily Woglom wrote in January last year, “By creating demand for recycled content, companies can support recycling markets and increase the economic incentive to recover and recycle plastic waste.” And we need industry to help “invest in adequate collection and functioning recycling systems…”

Plastic pollution is a massively complicated problem, and it will take a suite of strategic solutions to solve it. By committing to reducing their plastic use and investing in waste infrastructure, Unilever is targeting plastic at multiple stages of the pollution pipeline.

According to Unilever, 2.5 billion people in 190 counties use their products every day. When a company as large as Unilever takes a stand against plastic pollution, not only does it have a big effect on our ocean; it also sends a powerful message to others that we can all make a difference.

Remember, it’s going to take all of us to tackle this problem—every bit helps, whether it’s cleaning up trash by your local waterways, using reusable bags or pledging to Skip the Straw or Quit the Cutlery.

This is a positive step in the fight for trash free seas. We applaud Unilever for taking action, and we hope other companies follow their example.

Our work is focused on solving some of the greatest threats facing our ocean today. We bring people, science and policy together to champion innovative solutions and fight for a sustainable ocean.
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