Unilever, which owns brands such as Surf and PG Tips, says it plans to halve the amount of new plastic it uses in a bid to appeal to younger shoppers.
The firm is responsible for producing 700,000 tonnes of new plastic a year. But Unilever plans to slash that figure over the next five years by using more recycled plastic and finding other alternative materials.
Nevertheless, Unilever boss, Alan Jope, holds that plastic is a “terrific material”. And he maintains that many of the alternatives are worse, saying: “A hysterical move to glass may be trendy but it would have a dreadful impact on the carbon footprint of packaging.”
Mr Jope said Unilever, the UK’s biggest food producer and which also own dozens of health, beauty and cleaning brands, was trying to remain relevant to younger consumers who worry about plastic use.
He said millennials – normally thought of as those born between 1980 and 1995 – and Generation Z, which is more poorly defined but generally considered to be those born between the mid-1990s and 2010, cared about “purpose and sustainability”.
They also worry about “the conduct of the companies and the brands that they’re buying”. “This is part of responding to society but also remaining relevant for years to come in the market.”
He said there was “no paradox” between sustainable business and better financial performance.
“We profoundly believe that sustainability leads to a better financial top and bottom line.”
200,000 bottles a minute
The move follows similar announcements by several other companies.
Procter & Gamble – which makes Fairy and Lenor – said in April that it planned to halve the amount of plastic it used by 2030.
Meanwhile, Nestle announced that it would phase out all non-recyclable plastics from its wrappers by 2025 and Coca Cola has said that it will double the amount of recycled plastic it uses in the 200,000 bottles it makes every single minute by next year.
Now, Unilever has added its name to the list of firms promising to cut back on plastic with a pledge to recycle as much plastic as it makes by 2025. But Mr Jope said responsibility for reducing plastic could not fall to industry alone.
He called on UK councils to harmonise recycling policies so that manufacturers can make instructions clearer to consumers.
“If there was a standardised approach to collecting, sorting and processing, I think it would allow industry to standardise labelling and make it easier for people to segment their waste,” he said.
Unilever, which is one of the largest companies in the UK, has insisted that changing its packaging would not push up prices.