Fruit and vegetables from a supermarket with associated plastic waste

Unilever must shift from throwaway business model to address pollution crisis at root

Today we welcomed a move by consumer goods giant Unilever to drastically slash its use of plastics by half – and urge the company to achieve this via a wholesale reduction in single-use packaging.

The name behind such household brands as Dove, Persil and PG Tips committed to halve its use of new plastic by 2025 and to collect and reuse more plastic than it sells.

Appearing this morning on BBC World Business News to discuss the announcement, our Ocean Campaigner Juliet Phillips welcomed the move but urged Unilever to ensure its drastic plastic cuts are not met by substituting one form of plastic for another, such as bio-plastics and plastics containing recycled content.

Plastic bottles

“It is promising to see Unilever commit to develop reuse and refill solutions,” she said. “These are the way forward as we challenge our throwaway culture.

“We urge the company to meet its reduction target for new plastics through an absolute cut-back in single-use packaging, investing in innovative solutions that address the root causes of the plastic pollution problem.

“‘Virgin’ plastics are produced from fossil fuel sources such as natural gas or crude oil – and we maintain that it is critical society ends its dependence on these in response to the global climate crisis.

“We believe solutions to the plastic pollution problem must focus on reducing single-use packaging altogether, with an emphasis on prevention and a wholesale transition into reusable solutions.”

Many zero-waste solutions already exist for the products Unilever sells, such as packaging-free shampoo bars, loose tea and liquid cleaning products which customers can buy at refill stations in supermarkets.

Bio-based and biodegradable plastics do not necessarily breakdown in the natural environmental any faster than conventional plastics and can contaminate waste recycling streams.

Increasing the recycled content of plastic is an important step in creating a circular economy but, given the gulf between existing recycling facilities and the ever-increasing demand for single-use plastics, a focus on recycling alone cannot meet the scale of the problem faced.