Unilever CEO Paul Polman © World Economic Forum/Flickr
Unilever CEO Paul Polman has called on the food and beverage industry to accelerate progress towards a circular economy and address the challenge of single-use plastics.
The announcement comes one year after Unilever made a commitment to ensure 100% of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that the equivalent of one dumper truck’s worth of plastic enters the oceans every minute, and by 2050 it forecasts there could be more plastic (by weight) in the ocean than fish. Today, only 14% of plastic packaging gets collected for recycling.
“It is welcome news that many other major companies are making their own commitments to address ocean plastic waste,” said Polman.
“Yet as a consumer goods industry, we need to go much further, much faster, in addressing the challenge of single-use plastics by leading a transition away from the linear take-make-dispose model of consumption, to one which is truly circular by design.”
Unilever believes there are four actions the consumer goods industry should take: investment towards delivery models that promote reuse; a commitment by companies to use 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025; the creation of a global plastic protocol to industry standards; and for companies to engage positively in policy discussions with governments.
Polman added: “Addressing the issue of ocean plastic is a shared responsibility – all stakeholders in the value chain must work together in partnership to find effective solutions. However, there is no doubt that the response from the consumer goods industry will be amongst the most critical in determining the speed at which positive change takes place. We are at a critical juncture.”
Since 2010, Unilever said the waste associated with the disposal of its products has decreased by 28% and the weight of its packaging has reduced by 15%. The company also stopped sending non-hazardous waste to landfill from its manufacturing sites in 2015.
Alongside its commitment to 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025, Unilever pledged to source 25% of its resin from post-consumer recycled content by 2025, and to publish its full plastics palette before 2020.
The announcement follows a wave of sustainable pledges by companies since the start of the year. British supermarkets Waitrose and Iceland aim to drastically cut back on plastic packaging while Diageo and Pernod Ricard will eliminate plastic straw use.
The European Union has announced a strategy to make all plastic packaging in the EU recyclable by 2030 and to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics.
Last year, 150 companies and global organisations – including Nestlé, Danone and Unilever – endorsed a total ban on oxo-degradable plastics.
Polman, 61, who has been in charge of the Anglo-Dutch company since 2009, is expected to step down from his €8.3 million-a-year position in 2019. Headhunters have reportedly been hired to find a replacement.
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2019
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