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Unilever deploys out-of-the-box method to cut dangerous ingredients from products — but it still has a long way to go

“When looking for new discoveries, it’s a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack.”

"When looking for new discoveries, it’s a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack."

Photo Credit: iStock

British multinational consumer goods company Unilever is one of the world’s top plastic polluters, but it is reportedly taking steps in the right direction to ameliorate at least some of the environmental damage it causes. The company recently announced that it is using Artificial Intelligence to replace some of the harmful chemicals it uses in its products.

While all of the information about these advances is coming from the company itself — and should definitely be taken with a big grain of salt — Unilever, with the help of a Seattle-based biotech company called Arzeda, has reportedly already identified an enzyme that has eliminated stains using less water and energy than its traditional products. Arzeda uses “Intelligent Protein Design Technology™” to help identify new enzymes.

“It is believed that only 5% of the enzymes that occur naturally have been identified and fully understood,” said Neil Parry, head of biotech for Unilever. “So when looking for new discoveries, it’s a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack — then you need to tackle that one key find and optimize it to be as effective as possible in your application.”

Unilever produces a wide variety of products, including Dove soaps, Axe/Lynx body spray, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and more.

It has been identified by the NGO Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) as the second worst polluter in terms of collected plastic pollution in the Philippines, as well as coming in as the seventh worst plastic polluter globally in another audit.

The company claims to be committed to sustainability, with a goal of net-zero carbon pollution for its products “cradle to shelf” by 2039 and biodegradable products by 2030. However, the amount of plastic pollution that it continues to produce belies these goals.

While cutting dangerous ingredients from its products and making its formulations biodegradable is certainly a step in the right direction, Unilever still has a long way to go to reach its purported goals.

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