Unilever to half its use of plastic in five years!

Plastic waste
A look at Unilever's aims to lower plastic usage.

Unilever's 'drastic plastic plans' was trending on LinkedIn today (7th October). Unilever’s boss, Alan Jope's, released a statement on reducing the business’ plastic waste drastically. In the statement he stipulated that the company pledges to half its use of plastic in the next five years. At present, the firm produces over 700,000 tonnes of plastic every single year. The world produces 381 million tonnes of plastic every year at the moment. (Source: our world in data)

In Jope’s statement, he said that this was in a response to the pressure from Gen Z and Millennials on big corporations to do their bit to reduce plastic waste across the world, and it comes at an important time. Climate change is in the news almost every day and the impact that we, as humans, are having on the world is more prevalent than ever. Protesters such as the young Greta Thunderberg (the Swedish school girl campaigning for the future), are in the media’s eye every day and it is evident that people are responding.

Unilever aren’t the only big company coming forward with their pledges to support this sustainability movement, but what is interesting about their statement is their direct response to the pressure put on them and others by young people.

What does it mean to cut down on plastic?

Nowadays, the world has to understand and deal with the fact that every single bit of plastic that has ever been made still exists on the planet. Every single bit! Obviously, some has been repurposed and recycled but there is still a huge amount of the plastic left in landfills and our oceans. So, there is a big movement towards reducing this in order to protect the planet for our future.

Jope stated that he believes plastic to be a ‘terrific material’ and that a ‘move to glass’ could be much worse and have an even bigger carbon footprint. So, what really is the solution? And what do we think about sustainable packaging?

First things first, less is more! One of the biggest problems with packaging and the impact it has on the environment is that people often opt for much bigger packaging than necessary for aesthetic reasons. Obviously, your packaging needs to look good to sell and impress etc. but this doesn’t necessary have to be at cost to the environment. All materials will have some sort of impact and they will all impact the environment in different ways. Some of the best ways to reduce your company’s impact on the environment is to reduce any unnecessary packaging.

Biodegradable or compostable materials are a winner. If you can’t reduce (because obviously, big products often require a lot of packaging) looking at sustainable materials is always a good idea. If your packaging is biodegradable, for example, you know that once it has served its purpose it can be disposed of without hurting or damaging the environment. Therefore, your customers get their nice packaging and you can clear your conscious.

Happy customers

One of the reasons that Jope’s statement has caused the media to comment is its focus on the pleasing the younger generations (plus the vast size of the firm and the amount of plastic it contributes to the world everyday obviously). Millennials and Gen Z are known to be more eco conscious than any other generation and are putting huge pressure on organisations to respond. Many people in these generations refuse to purchase from companies that don’t focus on reducing their impact on the environment and there has been a huge rise in companies that focus their branding solely around their sustainability. So, it’s more important than ever to focus on the impact that your packaging might have on the environment.

The cost concern

In Unilever’s statement, Jope has insisted that changing its packaging will not impact its prices. This is an interesting point to make when it comes to changing packaging for sustainability reasons. There is a common opinion that using sustainable alternatives can drastically increase the price. However, at what cost? Unilever noticed that people are starting to boycott and stop buying from companies that don’t think about their impact on the environment and reacted accordingly. Loose business or change your packaging habits?

Our advice at Complete Packaging

We have talked about sustainable options before in previous articles but we thought we’d give some advice generally about where packaging and sustainability are going…

Firstly, you don’t need to spend a fortune, we can help you find an affordable solution that also reduces your environment impact. Complete Packaging have years of experience of coming up with the best possible solutions for all our clients. So, if sustainability is your main concern, we will advise you on the best possible solution.

Also, always do your research. Like Jope said, just panic switching to glass isn’t necessarily a solution and could actually be making a large impact in other ways. It might help to get inspiration for other companies in the same industry as yours. For example, L’Occitaine have done great at introducing refillable packaging to reduce the amount of packaging they produce, so for other cosmetic companies this might be a good step forward. You could also think about offering discounts for those that bring back their old packaging, so that you can recycle it! & other stories, the lifestyle brand, do this with their cosmetics range. If you bring back an old (plastic) container they give you 10% off your next purchase as an incentive!

I’m sure we can expect a few more announcements like this over the next few months. If you want any advice on your packaging do get in touch with us, we’d be happy to help.

In the meantime if you want more detail on Unilever’s statement, you can find out about it on the BBC website here.

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