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Unilever Vows to Halve New Plastic Use by 2025

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Some of the products made by FTSE 100 company Unilever. Nick Potts / PA Images via Getty Images

Unilever, the company that makes Ben & Jerry's and Dove, vowed Monday to halve its use of new plastic by 2025. That would mean reducing the around 700,000 tonnes (approximately 772,000 tons) it used in 2018 to no more than 350,000 tonnes (approximately 386,000 tons) a year starting in 2025, CNN reported.


"There is a lot of plastic pollution in the environment. And the fact of the matter is — too much of it carries our name," Unilever said in a statement reported by CNN.

Unilever, whose products are used every day by 2.5 billion people in more than 190 countries, aims to reach this goal by using more recyclable and recycled packaging, as well as by selling more products without any packaging at all. Monday's pledge builds on an earlier commitment to make all of its plastic reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and to source 25 percent of its packaging from recycled plastic, also by that date.

"This demands a fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products," Chief Executive Officer Alan Jope said in a statement reported by Reuters. "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's action comes amidst growing concern about the amount of plastic pollution in the environment: At least eight million tons of plastic enter the world's oceans every year, and plastic is set to outweigh fish by 2050 if nothing changes.

Other companies have decided to take action based on these concerns. Procter & Gamble said in April that it would cut its plastic use in half by 2030, BBC News reported. Nestlé promised to stop using non-recyclable plastics in its wrappers by 2025. This summer, hotel companies Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group pledged to replace single-use plastic toiletry bottles with bulk soap and shampoo dispensers.

In an interview with BBC News, Jope said that Unilever's decision was partly an attempt to appeal to younger generations of consumers who care about "the conduct of the companies and the brands that they're buying."

"This is part of responding to society but also remaining relevant for years to come in the market," he said.

Greenpeace, which has criticized Unilever in the past over environmental concerns, offered qualified praise for the new announcement, as NPR reported.

Greenpeace's Global Plastics Project Leader Graham Forbes said that Unilever's plan was the most ambitious corporate plan he had seen, but he urged the company to be transparent about its progress and to concentrate on phasing out single-use plastics entirely.

"While this is a step in the right direction ... Unilever's continued emphasis on collection, alternative materials, and recycled content will not result in the systemic shift required to solve the growing plastic pollution problem," Forbes said, according to NPR. "We encourage Unilever to prioritize its efforts upstream by redesigning single-use plastic and packaging out of its business model."

Perhaps one example of what Forbes has in mind would be Loop, a program that Unilever participates in along with Proctor & Gamble, Nestlé and other brands. As part of this project, Unilever sells a refillable deodorant made with a stainless steel stick. The deodorant lasts a month, but the stick can be refilled and reused around 100 times, CNN reported.

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