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Corporations + Waste to Energy Technology = Dangerous Liaison

From the more visible effects of plastic pollution on animal and ocean life to the more invisible issue of microplastics entering the food chain and our potable waters, most people are aware, to some extent or the other, that plastic causes some serious long-lasting pollution that needs to be addressed immediately. Green groups have started conducting beach cleanups and audits in cities across the world as a strategy to highlight how critical it is for global corporates to manage their waste. CAG’s beach audit in July 2017 pegged multi-layered plastics to be the third largest contributor to the plastic pollution found by the Marina beach with Hindustan Unilever, Unilever’s Indian subsidiary, as the top polluter. In a week-long beach audit organised by Break Free From Plastic Movement, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Ecowaste Coalition, and several other environmental organisations, revealed that multinational companies were responsible for 53% of the waste lying on Freedom Island, one of the areas most affected by plastic pollution in the Philippines. Unilever’s name featured second in the list of the top 10 polluting companies. This comes to no surprise to anyone who has done a casual Internet search of the sheer number of brands and products they own. Take a look at any of your everyday products, be it your soap or your tea and you will probably discover it belongs to Unilever.

With 2.5 billion people using its brands on a daily basis and over 40 billion sachets released every year, Unilever itself claims to understand the need to address its plastic waste. Unfortunately, Unilever’s solution is to resort to pyrolysis. This technology burns plastic waste to create energy. If you think this solution sounds too good to be true, then congratulations, you are on the right track. It cannot be stressed enough that no waste to energy technology, no matter the name it is rebranded to, is safe. It basically shifts the toxicity into the air, rendering the problem invisible but no less lethal. Leaving aside the fact that this technology is one of the most expensive methods to treat waste and competes with job opportunities for people, the worst part about pyrolysis is that it diverts the root of the problem: instead of redesigning packaging practices to depend on less long-term and harmful materials, Unilever gets a free pass to continue using finite resources to create one-time-use multilayered plastics that damage the earth for decades on end.

While the story to reach its products to the poor through sachets is an appealing one, it does not absolve Unilever from taking responsibility of the waste these multilayered (and therefore almost impossible to recycle) sachets produce. Surely a multinational company with its reach and resources, can afford to divert due efforts required to researching and innovating for actual solutions rather than misleading quick fixes to solve the problem of plastic packaging? We think so and we invite you to dig a little deeper and reject this dangerous partnership.


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