Unilever, one of the world’s biggest packaged goods producers, says it will halve the amount of new plastic it uses in response to rising environmental concerns, especially among younger consumers.

The company currently produces 700,000 tonnes of new plastic each year, but intends to cut that figure by 50% through a combination of increasing the use of recycled plastic and sourcing other, more environmentally friendly packaging materials.

The Anglo-Dutch company, which owns over 400 food and consumer goods brands, says it aims to reach its reduction target by 2025.

Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said, “Plastic has its place but that place is not in the environment. Our starting point has to be design, reducing the amount of plastic we use, and then making sure that what we do use increasingly comes from recycled sources.”

He told the BBC the move was part of efforts to stay relevant to younger consumers, explaining that millennials and Generation Z consumers cared about “purpose and sustainability”. They also examine the “conduct of the companies and the brands that they're buying”, he added.

“This is part of responding to society but also remaining relevant for years to come in the market,” Jope stated.

And there was no contradiction between a sustainable business and improving financial performance, he maintained. “We profoundly believe that sustainability leads to a better financial top and bottom line.”

Several other major companies have made similar pledges: Procter & Gamble, makes of Fairy and Lenor, said earlier this year it would also halve use of plastic by half by 2030. Nestlé has announced it will end the use of non-recyclable plastics from wrappers by 2025; and Coca-Cola says by next year it will double the amount of recycled plastic it uses in the 200,000 bottles it produces every minute.

The Unilever announcement follows research from Kantar, published last month, that showed consumers overwhelmingly look to big business to take the lead in tackling the problem of plastic waste.

Of the 65,000 people surveyed across 24 countries, only 19% felt individuals should take personal responsibility, but 48% said FMCG brands needed to take action.

And earlier this month, a Greenpeace report highlighted the fact that 90% of plastic produced is not recycled. It concluded that brands must rethink how products are delivered to the consumer, and that replacing virgin plastic with non-toxic, recycled (and recyclable) plastic only has a limited role in dealing with the problem of plastic overproduction.

Sourced from BBC, Recycling Magazine, Naked Capitalism; additional content by WARC staff