Amsterdam, 9 October 2019 – Unilever, with more than 400 brands, promises to reduce the amount of plastic drastically by 2025. In addition, the group promises to halve the use of new (virgin) plastic and to increase the use of recyclates. Unilever sells products to more than 2.5 billion people in more than 190 countries and is one of the companies that contribute most to the plastics soup. The new CEO Alan Jope says “We need absolute urgency in turning off the plastic tap.” Will his measures really help in the fight against the plastic soup?

Less virgin and more recyclates

Unilever has announced two new targets for 2025:

  • Cutting the amount of virgin plastic in packaging to half its original size.
  • Collect and process more plastic than the company sells.

Unilever uses approximately 700,000 tonnes of virgin plastic per year. This quantity should be reduced to half by 2025, i.e. no more than 350,000 tonnes of virgin plastic will be used. The company wants to achieve this by using less plastic in the packaging (this will result in an expected reduction of 100,000 tonnes) on the one hand and by using more recycled plastic (250,000 tonnes) on the other. In total, this is 600,000 tonnes. On average, this means an absolute reduction of 100,000 tonnes. Unilever claims to be the first multinational to promise an absolute reduction in the use of plastic.

Refillable and packaging-free products

Less packaging plastic, other packaging materials, unwrapped ice cream, unpackaged soap, higher concentration of detergents, more reusable products, refillable products; the list of opportunities that Unilever can and wants to utilize is long. But there is still plastic left. It must be reusable, recyclable or compostable. Non-recyclable plastic will, therefore, be replaced by recyclable plastic.

Who controls?

In order to obtain recyclable plastic, plastic waste must be collected. Unilever will work with partners to collect plastic in areas where waste collection is lacking or poor. How much money is involved, how effective it is and how many of these initiatives there are and where remains unclear for the time being. In addition, Unilever will also pay directly for recycled plastic. However, this is worse in quality than virgin plastic and also much more expensive. This implies that the proposed approach is susceptible to fraud. Who will control Unilever?

Big challenge

The biggest challenge is undoubtedly the sachets or mini-packaging. The packaging consists of several layers. So far there has been one pilot plant, in Indonesia, which recycles these packaging with chemical recycling. This is a theoretical solution. After all, the mini-packaging is mainly sold in areas with little purchasing power. Unilever must, therefore, demonstrate that all these packagings are neatly collected and transported to factories yet to be built, while it is precisely in the sales areas that the garbage collection is in default.

Is absolute reduction a relative concept?

The absolute reduction of single-use plastic (SUP) is one of the pillars of the Plastic Soup Foundation. It is therefore fantastic that Unilever is the first multinational to announce an absolute reduction. Or is it? Multinationals like Unilever wants to grow. They are striving to sell more and more products. How exactly does that relate to the promise of absolute reduction of plastic?

Photo: Sachets, including from Unilever. Roshan P. Rai of Zero Waste Himalaya.


Read moreUnilever’s biggest polluter in the Philippines

Read alsoUnilever’s promised cuts to plastic are welcome… but it’s still not enough 

Read alsoUnilever vows to reduce the use of plastic packaging


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Disappointing UNEA resolution on plastic soup: Shell and Unilever get their own way

Amsterdam, 20th March 2019 – The world has chosen not to combat the plastic soup with a reduction in plastics production or the introduction of a ban on single use plastics.

This is basically the disappointing result of the fourth UNEA conference in Nairobi, where the member states of the UN agreed a resolution on combatting the plastic soup. Several countries, led by the USA, blocked suggestions to combat the plastic soup internationally.

 Multiple resolutions discussed.

During the UNEA-4 Conference, concluded last Friday, the resolution “Addressing single-use plastic products pollution” was ratified. Member states are called upon therein to take measures to curtail and limit the ecological consequences of plastic waste. However, there is absolutely nothing mentioned in there about coordinated international discussion, nor any mandated obligatory reduction of (packaging) plastics. Several resolutions were discussed at the conference with the aim of stopping plastics pollution but the more ambitious ones didn’t even make the grade. Norway, Japan and Sri Lanka together proposed working towards a new international agreement with binding objectives. India even introduced a resolution at the very last minute aimed at banning single-use plastic.

The rejected resolutions were all in line with the processes already proposed by more than 90 environmental organisations, including The Plastic Soup Foundation which expounds upon how a new international convention on combatting the plastic soup should be manifested.

Read about that proposal here.

Opposition from the United States of America

The environmental organisations, collectively in Nairobi, accused the USA of blocking any ambitious resolutions, delaying discussions and modifying texts. The USA chose to defend the interests of their petrochemical industries who have invested more that 200 billion dollars in new plastics production. Shell for instance, is one of these companies that has invested billions in new plastics and profits from cheap shale oil and gas.

The environmental organisations issued a joint declaration to the press.

The Guardian quotes David Azoulay of the Center for International Environmental Law as saying:

“The vast majority of countries came together to develop a vision for the future of global plastic governance. Seeing the US, guided by the interests of the fracking and petrochemical industry, leading efforts to sabotage that vision is disheartening.” Even after the ratification of a greatly modified resolution, the American delegation announced that they did not feel bound to it at all.

Plastics manufacturers are happy

The World Plastics Council, the forum uniting plastics manufacturers, welcomed the resolution in a press release. They postulate that the first priority must lie in improved collection of plastic waste, especially in developing countries with large populations. The resolution however, imposes not one obligation on manufacturers to produce less (packaging) plastic. Unilever, one of the biggest polluters in South East Asia, also aims more towards recycling (mini) packaging instead of a reduction in production.

The Plastic Soup Foundation’s MD, Maria Westerbos:

“This successful lobby from the industry means that the plastic soup will only get worse over the upcoming years and that countries with the worst pollution will be landed with the worst problems. It is unbelievably disappointing that profits are once again seen to be more important than a habitable planet for future generations.”

Photo: Art installation made from plastic pegs by Angelika Heckhausen

Do also read – Protest Greenpeace bij Unilever tegen wegwerplastic.

Do also read – Nieuw industrieel offensief: Alliance to end plastic waste.

Do also read – Wil het Kabinet-Rutte wel echt minder plastic?



Amsterdam, February 7 2019 – Nestlé has acknowledged that certain kinds of plastic just cannot be recycled. The company has drawn up “The Negative List”: a list of plastics that have proven too problematic to use. The Swiss food and beverage concern will replace these plastics in existing packaging and refrain from using them in new packaging. All 4,200 Nestlé subsidiaries will start abandoning these plastics as of today, according to an article in Plastic News.

In 2013 scientists in the leading journal Nature made a plea to classify the most problematic plastics as hazardous. Specifically referred to were plastics with potentially toxic chemicals and plastics that are not reusable or recyclable. These hazardous plastics were to be replaced immediately by safer and renewable alternatives. According to the article, PVC and polystyrene were primarily concerned in the food industry.

Up till now, food multinationals such as Unilever and Nestlé have responded to plastic soup concerns by promising to make all plastic packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable. For instance, Unilever is developing a technology called CreaSolv that makes it possible to recycle multi-layer containers. This approach is very controversial because it doesn’t provide any guarantees that these containers will be collected after use in order to be recycled. Nestlé has now embraced a much more sensible strategy.

The materials that Nestlé is abandoning are:

  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Polyvinylidene Chloride (PVDC)
  • Polystyrene (PS)
  • Expandable Polystyrene (EPS)
  • Regenerated Cellulose
  • Non-recyclable combinations of plastics and paper.

Maria Westerbos, director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “This is a step in the right direction that we have long waited for. The next steps that companies like Nestlé and Unilever must take are to actually reduce their use of plastics and to fully invest in logistics of refill systems so that consumers can bring their own containers or bags to the store.”

Also read: Unilever largest polluter in the Philippines


Greenpeace torpedoes plans of multinationals to curb plastic soup

Amsterdam, 14 November 2018 – Greenpeace exposes the falsehoods in the plans and actions of multinationals to curb the plastic soup. Eleven multinational companies active in the sector of fast-moving consumer goods, have been vetted by the environmental organization. The companies are the biggest in the sector: Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, Johnson-Johnson, Procter&Gamble, Mars Incorporated, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Unilever, Mondelez International, Danone and KraftHeinz. None of these companies has formulated policy to reduce their total amount of packaging plastic. On the contrary, all plans presented so far allow unrestrained growth of single-use packaging plastic.

This is the Greenpeace conclusion in the recently published report ‘A crisis of convenience’. The consumer society has led to the environmental problem of the plastic soup. About 40 percent of all the plastic that is produced, is packing plastic that is used only once. Much of it ends up in the oceans and is comes from these multinational companies, whose business model is completely based on single-use packaging plastic. In summary their plans to combat the plastic soup consist of three pillars:

  • Reducing weight per plastic packaging
  • 100% recyclable packaging
  • Use of recycled material to replace new plastic.

Greenpeace believes that the intention to reduce the weight per plastic packaging is no indication whatsoever of the total amount of packaging plastic that the multinationals will use in the future, because meanwhile the number of sold packages constantly increases. The multinationals are found to actually abuse the ‘recycling-will-solve-the-problem’ argument to carry on as they do now. Neither does Greenpeace that the intention to produce 100% recyclable material guarantees that 100% recyclable will indeed be recycled 100%. According to the Greenpeace report recycling as a solution is a myth, because:

  • At present only 9% of all plastics worldwide is recycled;
  • The products that are presently made from recycled plastic are worse in quality and of less value. It is therefore no actual recycling, but downcycling which will cause the demand for virgin plastic to remain as large as it is now;
  • Much of the packing material is not designed to be recycled, such as mini packs consisting of multi-layered films;
  • There is a large lack of recycling infrastructure world-wide, both in terms of the collection of plastic waste and of processing it.

The brand audit report, based on the counting of stray plastic on brands in 42 countries, comes to the conclusion that Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Danone are the biggest polluters. Greenpeace investigated how many single-use plastics the eleven multinationals sold in 2017 and comes to the conclusion that the companies that sold most, were exactly the same as the most polluting companies according to ‘The brand audit report’, even in the same order.

Greenpeace makes the following recommendations to the multinationals to really fight the plastic soup:

  • Embrace annual reduction targets of packaging plastic in order to eventually banish it entirely;
  • Be completely transparent about the total amount of plastic used, not just per item;
  • Start the elimination of problematic and unnecessary plastics, such as the mini-packaging immediately;
  • Invest in recycling of bottles and trays and innovate in the associated logistics.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation: “The Greenpeace report touches on the sore spot. The promises of multinationals are hollow, as they are based on business as usual instead of on really fighting the plastic soup”.

Also read:

Coca-Cola largest plastic polluter

The big dispute: recycle or reduce plastic?

Unilever and the plastic soup

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Coca-Cola Largest Plastic Polluter

Amsterdam, 10 October 2018 – Worldwide research into the origin of plastic waste has identified Coca-Cola as the worst plastic polluter. More details on the research, based on the 239 cleanups that took place in 42 countries this year, can be found in the report Branded. In search of the world’s top corporate plastic polluters, compiled by Break Free From Plastic (BFFP). And their press release is available here.

About 10,000 volunteers picked up and identified the brand of over 187,000 pieces of plastic trash. The three most frequently registered brands are Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestlé. And overall, polystyrene was the most common type of plastic found, followed closely by PET.

This report stresses the need for multinationals to take responsibility for the end stage of their products and not place the responsibility for plastic waste on the shoulders of consumers and (local) authorities. To avert the plastic soup crisis more products should be sold without plastic packaging or the packaging should be reusable.

Despite all their grand talk about the circular economy, multinational companies, producing food, beverages, cosmetics and cleaning products continue to offer their products in single-use plastic packaging. BFFP urges multinationals to drastically reduce their use of single-use plastics and really take their responsibility.

The top polluters in Asia are Western multinationals. These brands are, according to the report, responsible for 30% of the plastic pollution. In 2017, during a cleanup of a beach in Manila (Philippines) 54,260 pieces of plastic were collected and audited. This 2017 brand audit found Nestlé and Unilever to be the largest polluters.

Global Coordinator of Break Free From Plastic, Von Hernandez: “By continuing to churn out problematic and unrecyclable throwaway plastic packaging for their products, these companies are guilty of trashing the planet on a massive scale. It’s time they own up and stop shifting the blame to citizens for their wasteful and polluting products.”

Also read: Unilever largest polluter in the Philippines

International investors set demands on plastic packaging

Amsterdam, 23 July 2018 – On the initiative of As You Sow, 25 international investors have united in the Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance. As You Sow is an American non-profit that encourages multinationals to become more sustainable.

The investors, with joint assets worth 1 billion dollars, have agreed to start a dialogue with multinationals that use a lot of single-use plastic packaging. These companies, that include Nestlé, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, must take responsibility to avoid further plastic pollution. The statement emphasises the following criteria.

  • All plastic packaging must be recyclable, reusable or compostable.
  • An annual report on the total plastic usage must be issued.
  • Alternative packaging must be developed, especially for single-use plastics.
  • Producers must take full responsibility. They must finance and facilitate collection and recycling in the markets in which they operate.
  • They must support government initiatives to reduce plastic.
  • They must expedite technological innovations.

The statement, one of the signatories of which is Robeco, complements the worldwide sustainability goals. The Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance ups the pressure on these companies to come up with real solutions.

Maria Westerbos, Director of the Plastic Soup Foundation says that “Setting requirements on financing capital is an important way to force companies to help reduce the plastic soup. Hopefully it will not take too long before international banks will also uphold ‘plastic soup’ criteria in their loans to multinationals.”

Read more:

Investment warning plastic packaging

Unilever largest polluter in the Philippines


Amsterdam, 22 June 2018 – Recently, multinationals have set goals to deal with plastic pollution that they themselves have created with their single-use packaging. Their goals have a striking similarity. Whether it is McDonald’s, Procter & Gamble, Unilever or Coca-Cola, they all pledge that in 2025 or 2030, 100% of their packaging will be made of renewable, compostable or recycled materials.

What they do not say is that the endless uses of plastic packaging will simply continue. Similarly, there is no assurance whatsoever that no plastic packaging will leak into the environment.

Just take Starbucks for example. As early as 2008, Starbucks promised that 100 percent of its coffee cups would be either reused or recyclable by 2015. Ten years later, most of their four billion cups still end up on landfills and elsewhere every year – the plastic coating in the cups means that they can hardly be recycled and there is no system to collect the used cups. It makes no difference to the plastic soup whether the cups are made of recycled materials or not.

The only real solution to tackle plastic pollution is to dramatically reduce or ban single-use packaging.

The solution for Starbucks is simple. Kiss the disposable cup goodbye and serve coffee either in personal cups that customers bring or put a deposit on the cups so that they will be returned and reused.

While some countries are announcing bans on single-use packaging – see the recent initiatives by the European Union and India – other governments are falling for the wiles of industry. Environment ministers in Australia, for example, recently declared that all Australian packaging must be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025. Is it any wonder that these targets will be carried out by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, whose members include 950 packaging companies?