Personal care giant Unilever has promised to halve the amount of virgin plastic it uses by 2025. The conglomerate (which owns Dove, St. Ives, Tresemme, Vaseline and Toni & Guy, among others) has also pledged to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by the year 2025.

"Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment," said Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, in a statement. "We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle." He added: "This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products. It requires us to introduce new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity."

Unilever has pledged to help collect and process more plastic packaging...

Unilever has pledged to help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells by the year 2025. (Photo: © AFP Photo: Eric Feferberg)

According to Unilever, its current plastic packaging footprint is around 700,000 tonnes per year, but the company has committed to slashing its virgin plastic packaging footprint to 350,000 tonnes by 2025. It will eliminate more than 100,000 tonnes via an ’absolute plastic reduction’ - a result of strategies such as focusing on reusable and/or refillable multiple use packs, alternative plastic-free packaging solutions and a reduction in the amount of plastic in existing packs. The remainder of the target will be achieved by using recycled plastics.

The company will also endeavor to collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually by 2025, by investing in waste management infrastructure, purchasing and using recycled plastics in its packaging and participating in extended producer responsibility schemes that will see it pay directly for the collection of its packaging.

"Today’s announcement by Unilever is a significant step in creating a circular economy for plastic," said Ellen MacArthur, the Founder of the environmental charity the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in a statement. "We urge others to follow their lead, so collectively we can eliminate the plastic we don’t need, innovate, so what we do need is circulated, and ultimately build an economic system where plastic packaging never becomes waste."

Unilever has been working on modifying its approach to plastics since 2017, when it launched a ‘Less, Better, No’ plastic strategy. The company had already committed to making sure that all its plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and pledged to incorporate at least 25% recycled plastic in its packaging by that year. It claims it is on track to hit those targets.