Unilever says it wants to halve its use of 'virgin' plastic by 2025

Key Points
  • Unilever's brands include Dove, Ben & Jerry's and Lipton.
  • It wants to reduce the amount of plastics it uses. 
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Unilever will halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025, the consumer goods giant said Monday.

The business, whose brands include Dove, Ben & Jerry's and Lipton, said it would achieve this by cutting its "absolute use of plastic packaging" by over 100,000 tonnes and "accelerating its use of recycled plastic." Virgin plastics are produced using raw materials, rather than recycled ones.

The Anglo-Dutch firm also vowed to "help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells." Unilever's current plastic packaging footprint is around 700,000 tonnes each year.

"The way that we'll reduce the virgin plastic in half is by, first, an absolute reduction in the amount of plastic that we use, and that's going to require our best innovative capability to come up with different packaging formats," Alan Jope, Unilever's CEO, told CNBC's Julianna Tatelbaum.

"But also, we're going to make much more use of recycled materials, stuff that the consumer has put into recycling streams and which we're able to use," Jope added. "And by doing that we hope to trigger the continued development of the recycled material business system."

Jope said the first job would be to reshape the company's portfolio — suggesting a radical shift in how products will appear on shelves.

"We have to move products that are currently made from brand new plastic into lighter weight materials that use more recycled plastic," he added. "But yes, we'll be doing concentration, we'll be doing compaction, and we'll be doing naked products."

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Business and its plastic problem

The issue of plastic waste and what to do with it is a hot topic for business. The European Commission has said that Europeans produce 25 million tons of plastic waste annually, with less than 30% "collected for recycling."

Unilever is one of a number of companies tackling plastic use and in September, Burger King in the U.K. announced it would no longer offer plastic toys with its kids' meals.

The fast food giant is also installing "plastic toy amnesty bins" in its U.K. restaurants, which will allow people to return their free or giveaway plastic toys so they can be reused. The idea is to turn the recycled plastic toys into restaurant play areas or items such as trays.

Burger King said its move would save an estimated 320 tonnes of single-use plastic each year. By 2025, it wants packaging to be 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable.

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