Packaging serves many purposes. It protects products, keeping them safe from contamination. It allows us to display vital information about how to use and dispose of goods safely. Packaging makes it easy to dispense a product, or to reseal it after use, and can help preserve a product for extended periods. It also offers convenience and portion control to match the different needs of consumers. In developing and emerging countries, many products such as margarines and shampoos are sold in single-use sachets to make them more accessible and affordable for people on low incomes.
However, packaging can often end up as waste in landfill or as litter. 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. It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans1.
Concern is also growing about the resources being used to produce packaging. This concern has led to commitments by some leading manufacturers, including Unilever, to minimize resource inputs and increase the recyclability of packaging.
The Waste & Packaging pillar of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan contributes to a number of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. In particular, shifting away from the “take-make-dispose” model of consumption to one which is circular, is a key priority in achieving Goal 12 – Sustainable Consumption & Production. Other relevant Global Goals include Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth; Goal 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure; Goal 11 – Sustainable cities & communities; Goal 12 – Responsible consumption & production; and Goal 14 – Life below water.
The business case for action is clear. By using resources more efficiently we can cut costs, ensure we have affordable access to the materials we need for the long-term and be more appealing to consumers who prefer brands that are careful with their use of natural resources.