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A photograph of a plastic bag floating through the ocean.

Keeping our plastic in the loop

We are committing to halve our use of virgin plastic in our packaging, and to collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell by 2025

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.

Plastic is a valuable material. It is crucial for the safe and efficient distribution of our products, and it has a lower carbon footprint than many alternative materials. So, it has its place.

But that place is definitely not littering our streets, rivers and oceans.

It is, however, inside the circular economy – where it is reused, recycled or composted. And where it is kept in a loop, to stop it from ever finding its way into the environment.

If even one of our bottles ends up in the environment, that’s one too many. Our plastic is our responsibility.

That’s why, today, we’re announcing new goals, that are even bolder than the ones we’ve been working towards up until now.

We are committing to halve our use of virgin plastic in our packaging, and collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell… all by 2025.

1/2 By 2025, reduce the amount of virgin plastic in our packaging by 50%

More By 2025, help collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell

When it comes to virgin plastic, we will deliver this in two ways. Firstly, by removing more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging by accelerating multi-use packs – such as reusable and refillable formats – and ‘no plastic’ solutions, which includes alternative packaging materials and ‘naked’ products. Secondly, by accelerating our use of recycled plastic in our packaging.

The most important step in eliminating plastic waste is preventing it getting into the environment. That’s why we’re also committing to collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell. We’ll do that in three ways: invest and partner to improve waste management infrastructure in many of the countries in which we operate; purchase and use recycled plastics in our packaging; and participate in extended producer responsibility schemes where we pay for the collection of our packaging.

We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the cycle.

Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever

“We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the cycle,” says Unilever CEO Alan Jope. “This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative materials, and scale up new business models, like reuse and refill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity.”

“Our vision is a world in which everyone works together to ensure that plastic stays in the economy and out of the environment. Our plastic is our responsibility and so we are committed to collecting back more than we sell, as part of our drive towards a circular economy. This is a daunting but exciting task which will help drive global demand for recycled plastic.”

On any given day, around 2.5 billion people, across more than 190 countries, use our products to feel good, look good and get more out of life. This puts us in a unique position to be part of the solution and realise our vision for a waste-free world where no packaging ever enters the environment – on land, in waterways and in our oceans.

Ellen MacArthur, Founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, says: "Today’s announcement by Unilever is a significant step in creating a circular economy for plastic. By eliminating unnecessary packaging through innovations such as refill, reuse and concentrates – while increasing their use of recycled plastic – Unilever is demonstrating how businesses can move away from virgin plastic.

“We urge others to follow their lead, so collectively we can eliminate the plastic we don’t need, and also innovate, so what we do need is circulated, and ultimately build an economic system where plastic packaging never becomes waste."

A few of the initiatives we’re working on

Since 2017, we have been transforming our use of plastic packaging. Here are some of the initiatives we’re working on and examples of where we’re helping to develop plastic collection and processing infrastructure.

Cif ecorefill bottle. Our Cif ecorefill allows shoppers to buy one spray bottle, which they can then use for life.

We’re exploring new ways of packaging and delivering products, including concentrates, such as our new Cif ecorefill – a 10x concentrated refill that allows shoppers to buy one spray bottle, which they can then use for life. This innovation uses 75% less plastic. And there are additional benefits. Diluting the product at home means 97% less water being transported, 87% fewer trucks on the road and less greenhouse gas emissions.

Wraperless Solero ice cream.

Our ice cream brand Solero has trialled an innovative box with built-in compartments so that individual ice creams can be inserted without a plastic wrapper, resulting in 35% less plastic per pack. The box is made from a specially designed PE (Polyethylene) coated cardboard. The design ensures Solero lovers can enjoy the ice lollies without compromising on quality. This trial is the latest innovation in our #GetPlasticWise initiative which aims to rethink plastic in the UK. The plan is about working with partners to seek solutions, as well as supporting and educating consumers on how they can reduce plastic consumption.

All Things Hair Refillery dispensing station.

We’re trialling new refill stations for shampoo and laundry detergent in shops, universities and mobile vending in South East Asia. For example, a pilot from All Things Hair – our content platform for hair inspiration and advice – brought a whole new model of eco-friendly shopping to consumers in the Philippines. We’re also experimenting with a refill model that comes to the consumer, rather than the consumer going to a store. In Chile, we’re partnering with Algramo to pilot an app-powered, intelligent dispensing system that uses electric tricycles to deliver to people’s homes.

TRESemmé bottles.

We’re developing pioneering innovations such as the new detectable pigment being used by Axe (Lynx) and TRESemmé. This makes black plastic recyclable, as it can now be seen and sorted by recycling plant scanners. The new technology means that an additional 2,500 tonnes of plastic bottles could now potentially be sorted and sent for recycling each year in the UK alone. We will share our work and the insights generated with other manufacturers to enable wide use of this technology and approach.

Signal toothpaste tablets in jar.

We’re bringing innovations to the market including shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes. We have also signed up to Loop, a global, first-of-its-kind, waste-free shopping system, where you buy products in packaging that can be returned and refilled. The system brings together major brands and retailers with the idea of shifting from a model that is ‘disposable’ (where packaging is thrown away or recycled after use) to one that is ‘durable’ (where packaging is reused and any leftover product is either recycled or reused).

Image of Bango advertisement.

Our sweet soy sauce brand in Indonesia, Bango, is switching to 100% recycled and recyclable bottles. Bango is our first Foods & Refreshment brand in our South East Asia and Australasia region to launch this innovation, with deployment of the new bottles for the 275ml and 135ml products starting in August. The change will apply to 33 million bottles and reduce over 500 tonnes of plastic waste every year. The marketing campaign promoting the launch aims to encourage consumers to reduce, reuse and recycle, particularly when it comes to plastic packaging.

Sunlight dishwash bottle.

We’re helping to create a circular economy for plastic packaging in many countries. For example, we have launched 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) – and fully recyclable – bottles for our FAB laundry detergent brand in Colombia and Sunlight dishwashing liquid in South Africa. For us to hit our 25% recycled plastic content target, we need lots of PCR. So, in places like Brazil, where collection and recycling are still being developed, we need to support it. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing with a local recycler called Wise.

Women at waste bank.

Over the last five years, we have collaborated with many partners to collect plastic packaging, including the United Nations Development Programme to help segregate, collect and recycle packaging across India. To help boost recycling rates and develop a functioning infrastructure in Indonesia, we are involved in a number of partnerships and programmes. We also raise awareness of recycling and support local collection through various initiatives, such as community-based waste banks, where individuals sort their waste and deposit it in exchange for money.

Waste pickers at Mr Green collection point.

Waste management is a huge issue in Africa and Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is no exception. The city produces around 2,400 tonnes a day, of which roughly 60% is collected and only around 10% recycled. The rest is dumped illegally or burned. To help address this problem, we got together with Mr Green Africa. This partnership has seen us unlock sustainable solutions to plastic waste management in Kenya, integrating a social component which has helped create more opportunities and employment to over 2,000 waste pickers who were previously ignored.