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Unilever sets ambitious commitments to keeping plastic out of the environment


Average read time: 4 minutes

Forging partnerships to alleviate pressure on the environment and to drive an inclusive circular economy is at the core of FMCG giant Unilever’s strategy to promote plastic stewardship.

Unilever has confirmed that by 2025 it will:

  • Halve its use of virgin plastic, by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerating its use of recycled plastic;
  • Help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells.

This commitment makes Unilever the first major global consumer goods company to commit to an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio.

They will also continue to work towards their existing commitment, made in 2017, to ensure that all their plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable and include a minimum of 25% recycled plastic. The Sunlight Liquid bottle is an example of packaging that is already made from 100% recycled plastic and is fully recyclable.

To catalyse transformational action and collaboration, Unilever hosted a roundtable discussion on the Role of Industry in Driving an Inclusive Circular Economy at a thought leadership event on 7 October and became a founding signatory to the South African Plastics Pact, an industry-led voluntary initiative to drive the development of an inclusive circular economy and supported by the WWF (World Wild Fund for Nature) and SAPRO (South African Plastics Recycling Organisation).

A circular economy is one in which products and materials are recycled, repaired and reused rather than thrown away, and in which waste from one industrial process becomes a valued input into another.

Luc-Olivier Marquet, CEO at Unilever South Africa, said: “Plastic is an effective packaging with a low carbon footprint but we need to recycle it until we have alternatives. We need to keep plastic off the streets, out of landfills away from the ocean and in the economy. The cost of doing nothing is much higher than the cost of taking action and there is no time to waste. We want our commitment to further influence other local and global companies to make the planet a better and cleaner place to live in”

Chairman of the South African Plastics Recycling Organisation (SAPRO), Johann Conradie said: “These commitments from one of largest FMCG companies in the world will drive circularity, recyclability and the use of recyclable plastic, which will contribute to help clean the environment and challenge other brands on a local and international level.”

Tatjana von Bormann, Head of Policy and Futures Unit at Worldwide Fund for Nature said: “It is an exciting day because Unilever not only pledged to ambitious global commitments, but they have also scaled them down to signing something locally innovative.”

“We will see transformation of the problem of plastics into nature and the opportunity for economic growth, especially in the sectors where we as South Africans need to see recycling become a way of doing business.”

Unilever is also working with partners to improve legislation around waste management. One of the ways in which this is being achieved is by integrating reclaimers or “waste pickers” into the recycling economy and ensuring they are paid for the valuable service they provide.

Luyanda Hlatshwayo, a reclaimer and executive member of the African Reclaimers Organisation (ARO) said it is time for South Africans to see exactly what is happening in the recycling industry.

“The work done by reclaimers has been hidden - many citizens are surviving on recycling and the collection system resulting in high collection rates for South Africa – higher than most other countries. We are happy to be partnering with Unilever and it will help to have other companies also come forward to collaborate” said Hlatshwayo.

Unilever has a long history of collaboration with Wildlands Conservation Trust, an organisation at the forefront of conservation in South Africa, who have developed a revolutionary brick made from 30% flexible waste and 70% crushed glass. Not only are these bricks stronger and more durable - they also have a better environmental footprint compared to conventional bricks.

Andrew Venter, CEO at Wildlands Conservation Trust, said: “My hope is that the commitments made by Unilever and the South African Plastic Pact will create massive steps towards a future where our children can live in a waste free world.”

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