Rubbish Campaign State of Play

You might have heard the old joke, ‘what goes up and up but never comes down?’

Well until recently it looked like the answer might be the amount of plastic that big companies push into poor communities. For many of those Renew Our World works with, this causes serious problems. If you have no regular bin collections, then you have little choice but to burn or dump the plastic, causing toxic fumes, carbon emissions, flooding and disease. We see the consequences every day.

However, an announcement from Unilever last week shows that this might all be about to change!

Unilever have committed to reduce their total use of plastic by a sixth by 2025, as part of a drive to halve their use of new plastic by the same date. Instead, they will focus on reusable and refillable packaging and increase their use of recycled plastic. They will also collect more plastic than they sell, to ensure that none is left in the environment.

These are the biggest commitments yet in response to Renew Our World’s Rubbish Campaign, which calls on Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Nestle to take responsibility for the problems their plastic waste is causing.

Some of the previous commitments made by these companies were going to take an age to come into effect. (And the original punchline for that joke about what goes up and up but never comes down is indeed ‘your age’). So it’s great to see Unilever stepping up to take this issue seriously, and with a 2025 deadline.

But, it’s important how Unilever goes about delivering on these commitments: we want to see changes in places where plastic causes the most problems, not just in the West. And we want collection of plastics to go hand-in-hand with efforts to empower the entrepreneurial but marginalised band of waste-pickers that currently collect a lot of recyclable waste in poor countries. Studies suggest that this can be a win-win for both sides, and it’s something that we want all of our target companies to commit to.

And of course, we also want the other three companies to make commitments that go even further than Unilever have…

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