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The world is at a critical juncture when it comes to plastic leakage into oceans and waterways, and  FMCG companies need to move swiftly to effect change, says Unilever.

One year after Unilever made its commitment to ensure 100 per cent of its plastic packaging was fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, CEO Paul Polman welcomed the news that 10 companies have made similar pledges.

However, he said that the consumer goods industry needs 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.

He called for more organisations to address plastic leakage into the world’s natural systems including waterways and oceans and work towards creating a circular economy for plastics.

Polman said: “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.”

Research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF) 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 per cent of plastic packaging is collected for recycling.

Unilever believes there are four key actions the consumer goods industry should take to create the systemic change required and accelerate the transition to a circular economy:

  1. For companies to invest in innovation towards new delivery models that promote reuse.
  2. For more companies to commit to 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging by 2025 and set stretching targets for using post-consumer recycled content.
  3. For a Global Plastics Protocol setting common agreed definitions and industry standards on what materials are put into the marketplace, to ensure our packaging is compatible with existing and cost-effective recycling infrastructures.
  4. For companies to engage positively in policy discussions with governments on the need for improvements to waste management infrastructure, including the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility schemes.

Since 2010, the waste associated with the disposal of Unilever products has decreased by 28 per cent, and the weight of its packaging has reduced by 15 per cent. The company also stopped sending non-hazardous waste to landfill from its manufacturing sites in 2015.

Alongside its commitment to 100 per cent reusable, recyclable, or compostable plastic packaging by 2025, Unilever pledged to source 25 per cent of its resin from post-consumer recycled content by 2025, and to publish its full plastics palette before 2020.

In 2017, the company announced it was making good progress on identifying a technical solution to recycling multi-layered sachets through its Creasolv technology, for which a pilot plant in Indonesia is currently being built to assess its commercial viability.

It intends to make this technology open-source, and hopes to scale it with industry partners, so others – including competitors – can use it.

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