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Unilever Vows to Halve New Plastic Use by 2025

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Unilever Vows to Halve New Plastic Use by 2025
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.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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