Unilever – fueling the climate crisis with plastic pollution

The #breakfreefromplastic movement protests Unilever sponsorship of the COP26 summit

As the world looks to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties 26 (COP26) meeting in Glasgow, the #breakfreefromplastic (BFFP)  movement protests Unilever’s corporate sponsorship of this vital summit, given its records as one of the world’s top plastic polluters.

Unilever’s COP26 sponsorship compromises the integrity of this crucial meeting, which should be held outside of the influence of the large corporations responsible for polluting our planet and contributing to the climate crisis.

Why shouldn’t Unilever sponsor a climate conference?

Unilever was found to be the world’s third top plastic polluter in the 2021 Brand Audit. Our volunteers found Unilever branded trash polluting 30 countries.

Unilever produces over 700,000 metric tonnes of plastic packaging every year according to self reported data to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Almost all of this is single-use plastic, and they don’t report what percentage of reusable packaging they use.

Plastic is a major climate polluter. If the entire global lifecycle of plastic were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter in the world.

19% of Unilever’s products are packaged in multilayered sachets or pouches. Sachets are polluting the Global South in enormous quantities. They cannot be recycled and are worthless to the informal waste pickers who collect waste to be recycled. Sachets are such a problem for Unilever that they have begun to burn them in cement kilns.

Burning plastic in cement kilns is incredibly dirty for the climate and for the health of communities living close to the kilns. Burning one tonne of plastic emits three tonnes of CO2 and releases toxic chemicals.

While polluting the planet with single use plastic, Unilever greenwashes their image with false solutions to the plastic crisis. A recent report ‘Missing the Mark: unveiling corporate solutions to the plastic crisis’ found Unilever investing in 31 false solution projects, and only 11 projects focused on plastic reduction and reuse.

The consumer goods sector’s dependence on single-use plastic packaging is helping enable the fossil fuel industry’s move to expand plastic production according to research by Greenpeace.

The global climate movement has demanded that polluters be removed from the UN climate talks with an open letter to the organisers.

What should Unilever and the UN do?

Unilever needs to urgently reduce plastic production and develop reusable packaging systems. These should be accessible for all, cheap and universally available.

Unilever must end its support for waste burning and instead focus on developing packaging free and reusable alternatives to sachets.

The UN must remove corporate polluters from sponsoring these essential climate talks. The world’s governments, academics and civil society should be able to negotiate a path to limiting global heating to 1.5℃ without the influence of companies who are in part responsible for the climate crisis.

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