New Delhi: One of the world’s largest consumer goods company is taking a firm stand on eliminating plastic usage over the next few years, in line with other companies the world over that are seeking more sustainable ways of packaging soaps, shampoos, and beverages.

On Monday, consumer goods firm Unilever, that sells popular brands such as Lux, Axe, Surf Excel, and Dove, among others, outlined its commitment to eliminate more than 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging, as well as collecting and processing more plastic packaging than it sells by the year 2025.

As part of this commitment to limit use of plastic, Unilever plans to halve the use of virgin plastic by reducing its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerate the use of recycled plastic over the next few years.

The plan will entail a “fundamental rethink in our approach to our packaging and products," Alan Jope, Unilever CEO, said in a press statement on Monday. The company will look at introducing new and innovative packaging materials and scale up new business models, like re-use and re-fill formats, at an unprecedented speed and intensity, Jope added.

“Plastic has its place, but that place is not in the environment," Jope said, in what can be seen as a bold commitment on behalf of the company given the size and scope of its business. Unilever sells to shoppers in 190 countries with over 400 brands. “We can only eliminate plastic waste by acting fast and taking radical action at all points in the plastic cycle," Jope said.

The company's announcement comes as consumers, environmentalists, and governments world over are prompting large companies to find sustainable solutions to doing business and limit waste that ends up in oceans and landfills.

Currently, Unilever’s annual plastic packaging footprint is around 700,000 tonnes, the company said. By 2025, Unilever’s new outline for plastic reduction will require the company to help collect and process around 600,000 tonnes of plastic annually. “This is less than our current 700,000 tonnes plastic packaging footprint because it reflects the 100,000 tonnes absolute reduction we have committed," the statement said.

The company plans to achieve this through direct investment and partnerships in waste collection and processing in many of the countries where it operates. It will also step up purchase and use of recycled plastics in its packaging.

It has also pledged to reduce virgin or new plastic packaging by 50% by 2025, with one third--more than 100,000 tonnes--coming from absolute plastic reduction. More than 100,000 tonnes will come from absolute reduction as the business invests in multiple use packs such as reusable and refillable packages. Unilever will also work to find alternative packaging materials and gradually reduce the amount of plastic used in its existing packs, the compnay added.

“Unilever will measure the total tonnes of virgin plastic packaging used each year vs the total tonnes of virgin plastic packaging used in 2018. As a result of this commitment, Unilever is committing to have a virgin plastic packaging footprint of no more than 350,000 tonnes by 2025," the company said.

Jope indicated that design will be a key element to how it reduces plastic going forward. This could imply using less plastic in its plastic bottles and caps that sell everything from detergents to shampoos. “Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources. We are also committed to ensuring all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable," he said.

Since 2017, the company has innovated packaging material across some of its brands such as Cif, Axe, TRESemme, etc, and even modified the way they are delivered in a bid to reduce the plastic required. As part of its No Plastic initiative, Unilever has brought to the market innovations including shampoo bars, refillable toothpaste tablets, cardboard deodorant sticks and bamboo toothbrushes, the compnay said. It has also signed up to the Loop platform, which is exploring new ways of delivering and collecting reusable products from consumers’ homes, the company added in its press statement.

In India, where it operates through Hindustan Unilever Ltd, the company has over the last five years collaborated with many partners to collect, and recycle plastic packaging.

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