(Alliance News) - Unilever PLC has come under fire for selling billions of polluting plastic sachets as research by Greenpeace International suggests 1,700 will have been sold every second in 2023.

Greenpeace analysed Unilever own reports as well as those from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and Future Market Insights to form a picture of the consumer giant's plastic footprint over the years.

The Amsterdam-based company has been vocal about its aims to conduct business that benefits the environment as well as its plans to use "less plastic, better plastic or no plastic".

But Greenpeace found that Unilever is the biggest corporate seller of plastic sachets in the world and is predicted to sell 53 billion in 2023, 1,700 per second.

The campaign group said sachets – small throwaway plastic packets of consumer products – have increasingly been marketed to countries in the Global South by large corporations such as Unilever.

Greenpeace said the company, which first promised to tackle sachet waste in 2010, went on to produce an estimated 475 billion over the next decade, steadily increasing production by approximately one to two billion a year.

This is resulting in a mountain of plastic pollution, which has devastated local neighbourhoods and waterways where sachets are clogging drains and aggravating issues such as flooding, it said.

Campaigners around the world have called for these sachets to be banned because of their environmental and health impacts, particularly in Global South communities.

A new field investigation by Greenpeace South East Asia and Greenpeace UK revealed images of Dove's sachet waste polluting beaches and waterways in the Philippines and Indonesia.

The report also looked at Unilever's progress towards meeting its own plastics targets and its efforts at switching from single-use plastic to reusable solutions, finding both to be slow.

The findings suggest that Unilever's plastic footprint has generally been growing, having produced 500,000 tonnes in 2017, increasing to 713,000 tonnes in 2021 and dipping to 698,000 in 2022.

The Greenpeace research also found the company will not achieve its target to cut virgin plastic use in half by at least 2034 under its current trajectory, despite pledging to do so by 2025.

And it said 0.2% of Unilever's plastic packaging is currently reusable, while the company has yet to set a reuse target.

Meanwhile, Dove, one of Unilever's biggest brands, was found to be generating billions of units of single use plastic every year, including an estimated 6.4 billion sachets.

The environmental group is urging the company to phase out single-use plastic from its operations and transition to reusable in the next 10 years, starting with plastic sachets.

It is also calling on the company to advocate for this same level of ambition at the ongoing UN Global Plastics Treaty negotiations and to back a treaty which caps and phases down plastic production by at least 75% by 2040.

Nina Schrank, head of plastics at Greenpeace UK, said: "Unilever really are pouring fuel on the fire of the plastic pollution crisis.

"Their brands like Dove are famous for telling the world they're forces for good. But they're pumping out a staggering amount of plastic waste.

"It's poisoning our planet, you can't claim to be a 'purposeful' company while bearing responsibility for such huge pollution. Unilever has to change."

Marian Ledesma, campaigner at Greenpeace Philippines said: "Each one of the many Dove sachets we found polluting beaches and waterways should be a badge of shame for Dove and Unilever.

"They can't continue to flood countries like the Philippines with waste they know can be devastating.

"Each sachet represents the enormous health risks, environmental degradation, social injustices and climate impacts caused by plastic production and the plastic life cycle.

"If Unilever want to be seen as a leader, they should stop being part of the problem."

A Unilever spokesperson said: "Tackling plastic pollution remains a top priority and we continue to make progress across all our plastic goals, although we recognise 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%.

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

"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.

"Unilever is a member of the Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty, which is campaigning for an ambitious, legally binding UN plastic treaty, including measures to reduce the production and use of plastic as we know recycling alone is not a viable solution to reduce plastic pollution."

By Rebecca Speare-Cole, PA

source: PA

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