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Consumer brands struggling to eliminate plastic pollution

By Charlotte Ricca

Big companies have ‘a long way to go’ to reduce plastic packaging

Major brands aiming to eliminate plastic packaging need to take a "massive step" to hit their targets, a report says.

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation report provides “unprecedented levels” of transparency on the plastic usage of 176 packaged goods companies and retailers.

Those involved aim to eliminate plastic packaging and increase the use of recycled plastic more than five-fold by 2025. This is the equivalent of keeping 25 million barrels of oil in the ground every year, the report says.

The research also shows around 60% of plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable, which businesses have committed to making 100% by 2025.

Unilever, Mars and PepsiCo have also announced significant reductions in virgin plastic use by 2025.

However, corporations have much work to do in order to reach these targets. Nestlé has pledged to use 15% recycled plastics by 2025, but only used 2% in its 1.7m tonnes of plastic packaging last year.

Mars set a more ambitious target of 30%, despite not using any recycled material in 2018. Unilever, whose target is 25%, used less than 1%.

The top performer is Coca-Cola, which used 9% per cent recycled content in its plastic packaging last year. However this is still a long way off its 2030 target to use 50% recycled material in all primary packaging.

The drinks giant is credited for using 99% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging. Yet it still makes almost 3m tonnes of plastic packaging a year, predominantly from virgin plastics.

Sander Defruyt, who leads the New Plastics Economy initiative, admitted there is “a long way to go” but said the early progress is “promising”.

“A lot of plastic recycling today results in quality losses, which means the material is only good for use in construction or industry and not for food and drink packaging,” he explained.

“Changing that will require a massive step up in investment both for the companies and for the recycling industry, which needs to build additional capacity and improve technologies.”

Defruyt added: “It is crucial those efforts are accelerated and scaled, and more businesses and governments take action to eliminate plastic pollution at the source.”

Unilever PLC ADR - USD
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