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Plastic pollution protests: Greenpeace scales Unilever HQ as firm seeks sachet solutions

#Plastic pollution protests: Greenpeace scales Unilever HQ as firm seeks sachet solutions

Greenpeace protesters outside Unilever's HQ.
(Image credit: Greenpeace).

13 Feb 2024 — Greenpeace protestors surrounded Unilever’s headquarters in London, UK, last week to demonstrate against plastic pollution on the eve of the company’s 2023 financial results. The organization called on Unilever to stop the sale of sachets used for products such as Dove shampoo, but the FMCG giant tells us it is already working to replace the hard-to-recycle packaging with more sustainable alternatives.

The NGO hung a 13-meter-wide banner across the building’s entrance, reading “Profit Warning: Plastic Polluted Money.” Two protesters sat on the building walls holding black flags with a subverted version of Dove’s logo reading “Real Harm.”

Greenpeace asserts that sachets are some of the “worst polluting packaging” and are “infamous for being near impossible to collect and recycle, helping to cause devastating flooding when they enter the environment and jam local waste systems and waterways.”

A Unilever spokesperson tells Personal Care Insights: “We’re working on a range of solutions to reduce our use of plastic sachets, which are difficult to recycle, and replace them with alternatives.”

“This is a complex technical challenge with no quick fixes, and we are fully committed to working with industry partners and other stakeholders to develop viable, scalable alternatives that reduce plastic waste.”

Plastic production and reduction
This year’s Break Free From Plastic brand audit of corporate plastic polluters ranked Unilever in the top three companies. The activists also set up a “pollution warning zone” around the headquarters’ entrance.

On the brand’s website, Dove says it is “committed to a landmark new initiative as part of our 2025 commitment to reduce plastic waste — reducing the manufacture of more than 20,500 [metric] tons of virgin plastic per year.”

Dove body washes in two lines.Dove is criticized for causing plastic pollution while marketing itself as “clean” (Image credit: Unilever). It plans to achieve this goal by making its Beauty Bar packaging plastic-free globally, launching 100% recycled plastic bottles and trialing a refillable deodorant format.

“Tackling plastic pollution remains a top priority, and we continue to make progress, although we recognize we have much more work to do. In the past few years, we have rapidly increased our use of recycled plastic in our global portfolio to 21%,” explains the Unilever spokesperson.

“The Ellen MacArthur Foundation recently called out Unilever as one of the businesses making the most progress to reduce its virgin plastic packaging footprint.”

Change needed
However, Nina Schrank, head of Plastics at Greenpeace UK, has an alternative take on the company’s eco-friendly initiatives.

“Unilever’s profits are drenched in plastic pollution. Brands like Dove might give them a clean public face and a healthy bank balance, but the truth is the billions in profit…is matched only by the billions of pieces of plastic they flood into the world,” she tells us.

“From devastating floods to toxic fire fumes, it’s communities far from its London HQ in places like the Philippines and Indonesia paying the price of plastic pollution.”

A report by Greenpeace International showed the company was on course to sell 53 billion sachets in 2023, equalling 1,700 per second.

The organization asks Unilever to phase out single-use plastic within ten years and to use its influence to advocate at the UN Global Plastics Treaty negotiations through its role as a co-chair of the Business Coalition.

“That’s why we’re here issuing Unilever with their own profit warning — profiting from plastic pollution is a dead end, they have to change. They must stop selling plastic sachets now, commit to phasing out single-use plastic within a decade and advocate for this same level of ambition at UN Global Plastics Treaty negotiations,” says Schrank.

Financial beauty boom
Unilever’s financial report showed a robust performance in the Personal Care, Beauty and Home Care divisions. Unilever outlined three priorities to drive “unmissable superiority” of brands in the Beauty and Wellbeing category:

  • Elevate core Hair Care and Skin Care brands to increase premiumization.
  • Fuel growth of Prestige Beauty and Health & Wellbeing with selective international expansion.
  • Continue to strengthen beauty and well-being capabilities.

Unilever says the Beauty & Wellbeing category delivered a “strong full-year performance,” with underlying sales up 8.3% and volume growth accelerating to 6.3% in the fourth quarter. It also reported good volumes in Hair Care and very strong volumes in Health & Wellbeing.

By Sabine Waldeck

This feature is provided by Packaging Insights’s sister website, Personal Care Insights.

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