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Rethinking Plastic Packaging

Rethinking Plastic Packaging - towards a more Circular Economy

We want to move towards a more circular economy, so that more plastic packaging has the best possible opportunity to be reused or recycled.

Plastic packaging: a growing problem

Every minute the equivalent of one rubbish truck of plastic is leaking into streams and rivers, ultimately ending up in the ocean. This has a devastating impact on marine wildlife. An estimated 100 million marine animals die each year due to discarded plastic. And the problem is set to get worse. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report on the New Plastics Economy estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans.
The root causes of ocean plastic are complex, but it is clear that urgent action is needed on multiple fronts. One area of direct concern for Unilever is the fact that just 14% of the plastic packaging used globally makes its way to recycling plants, a third is left in fragile ecosystems and 40% ends up in landfill.
So, how did we end up here? Cheap, flexible and multipurpose plastic has become the ubiquitous material of today's fast-moving economy. Modern society would be lost without it. The linear 'take-make-dispose' model of consumption means that products get manufactured, bought, used once or twice for the purpose they were made, and then thrown away. Most packaging rarely gets a second use. As a consumer goods company, we're acutely aware of the causes and consequences of this linear model. And we want to change it.
Moving away from the linear 'take-make-dispose' model of consumption is a key priority in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SDG12). From a purely economic perspective, discarding plastic makes zero sense. According to the World Economic Forum, plastic packaging waste represents an $80 - 120 billion loss to the global economy every year. A more circular approach is needed, where we not only use less packaging, but design the packaging we do use so it can be reused, recycled or composted.

What is a circular economy?

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design. This means that materials constantly flow around a 'closed loop' system, rather than being used once and then discarded. As a result, the value of materials, including plastics, is not lost by being thrown away.
The benefits of the circular economy approach are clear for business and the environment - more effective use of materials means lower costs and less waste. It means new sources of value for customers and consumers, better risk management of raw materials, and improved approaches to the supply chain.
Thus, as a consumer goods industry, we need 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.

WorldBI Author