Unilever recently provided an update on its movement toward eliminating plastic packaging waste from the environment. The company’s global strategies include ensuring all plastic packaging is 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025, and making a commitment to using a minimum of 25% post-consumer recycled resin in its plastic packaging by 2025. A short-term goal involves reducing packaging weight by one-third by 2020.
Many of Unilever’s consumer product brands already use 100% post-consumer recyclate (PCR), something Unilever wants to increase. Other brands are making significant progress by including 25 to 50% PCR in some packages, including Suave, Dove Men+Care, AXE, Vaseline and Caress.
Eliminating single-use plastics is a big goal at Unilever’s wholly owned subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s, which made a major commitment to “no plastics” this year by announcing it would remove single-use plastics from its Scoop Shops. The brand will no longer offer plastic straws or spoons in any of its 600 shops worldwide this year; it will address plastic cups and lids by the end of 2020, according to Unilever’s update report.
Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shops currently hand out 2.5 million plastic straws a year, and 30 million plastic spoons, according to Jenna Evans, Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, who is leading the transition from plastic straws to paper straws (available by request) and plastic spoons to wooden spoons. “We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem,” said Evans. “We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”
In the announcement made by Ben & Jerry’s, the company noted that on April 9, 2019, Scoop Shops completed the transition to wooden spoons. By the end of next year, Ben & Jerry’s will find an alternative to clear plastic cups, plastic-lined cups and plastic lids.
It’s going to be interesting to see what type of material Ben & Jerry’s will find for its ice cream cups if they no longer accept paper cups with a polyethylene lining. Wax linings are an alternative, but either way, linings make the paper cups non-recyclable. A clear plastic cup would be far more eco-friendly and perhaps the company could find a way to educate its customers to put them in a recycling bin. Littering by uncaring consumers is the biggest problem we have with regard to waste packaging in the environment.
Many of us remember the days of the wooden ice cream spoon attached to the bottom of a paper ready-to-eat ice cream cup with paper lid. Nothing could be worse than eating ice cream with a wooden spoon—splinters in your lip, anyone?—not to mention that the manufacturing process takes far more energy and kills more trees than plastic spoons.
The announcement noted that the company has a history of striving for more sustainable packaging solutions. Pints and “tubs” (as Ben & Jerry’s container is known in the UK and Europe) have been made with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified paperboard since 2009. But because they are coated with polyethylene to create a moisture barrier, they are difficult to recycle. Evans said Ben & Jerry’s is looking at options. “Over the past year, we have begun an intensive effort to find a biodegradable and compostable coating that meets our product quality requirements,” she said.
What Evans fails to understand is that anything labeled “biodegradable” is only biodegradable if left out in the open for a length of time where sunlight, microbes and moisture can work on the material. California is one state, in particular, that has a distaste for all things claiming to be biodegradable.
Evans noted that in the “short term, eliminating plastic straws and spoons is not going to save the world.” No, duh! I guess no one over there saw the survey showing that using plastic straws is at the bottom of consumers’ “guilt meter.”
Studies continue to show that plastic is far more eco-friendly in terms of energy and resource savings than many alternative materials. I guess Jon Huntsman Sr.’s comment would be appropriate here when it comes to using wooden spoons to eat ice cream: “Use old dinosaurs, not new trees.”