- Unilever announced last week it expects to reach 50% recycled content in its packaging by the end of this year. The company did not specify how much of its packaging currently contains recycled content.
- Unilever North America President Amanda Sourry said the company is "significantly accelerating our plastic packaging commitments in North America and are thrilled to be working alongside other industry leaders like Walmart to push these initiatives forward." The announcement was made at the Walmart Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting.
- The company is also adding a How2Recycle label meant to provide clear instructions to consumers on how packaging should be discarded. It expects all of its packaging to have these labels by 2021.
Unilever originally announced its commitment to plastic packaging in 2017 when it said it planned to "increase its use of recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025 against a 2015 baseline." Without knowing Unilever's 2015 baseline, it's hard to know if this latest announcement represents an increase in packaging volume or just a change in timeline.
Unilever also plans to work with Walmart to educate shoppers on proper recycling in a program it is calling "Bring it to the Bin."
We are accelerating our action on plastic packaging with a 3-part plan announced today, including achieving 50% recycled content in packaging by the end of the year. Read more: https://t.co/NvesY2ldox pic.twitter.com/yKUhdunuzx— UnileverUSA (@unileverusa) April 10, 2019
"We need collective action to tackle the problem at the source by working with forward-thinking companies like Walmart, advocating for systemic change in government and recycling facilities, working closely with plastics suppliers, and educating consumers," Sourry said. "Only together will we answer the urgent call made by the plastics issue we are facing."
Unilever is making these announcements at a time when many retailers are making similar commitments to sell items in more sustainable packaging. Walmart itself plans to reach 20% post-consumer recycled content in private brand packaging by 2025. And Trader Joe's has announced multiple sustainable packaging initiatives after facing pressure from consumers.
A large supplier like Unilever could see these efforts from retailers and think it needs to make some changes if it wants to stay on the shelf. Others say these changes are an attempt to get ahead of potential regulation.
"It’s clear they are trying to not be regulated," Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year. She was speaking about plastic reduction efforts from large corporations generally.
Companies seem aware of the reputation packaging has gained after years of turning up in natural environments and having a negative impact on the wildlife.
"I sometimes wonder if we’re in the branded litter business, branded trash," Unilever Chief Executive Alan Jope said in Davos, according to Reuters.