Why I don’t let waste go to waste
Beverley Villamidez, a Unilever young leader working as Personal Care Packaging Support Manager in the Philippines, explains how she turned factory waste into an alternative income stream for her local community
What’s very important for me is knowing that I am part of a company that contributes solutions to the very serious problems of land pollution and climate change, a company that empowers me to do the same.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve known that my dad cared about the environment. I can still see him tiptoeing quietly into my room and switching off the lights or air conditioning in the middle of the night, trying his best not to disturb me.
Nothing was thrown away in our house. Everything had a use: fruit peelings became fertiliser for our small backyard, cardboard boxes were repainted in fun colours to become toy boxes, and those empty mayonnaise jars found new uses as flower vases or spice storage.
He preferred buying sachets instead of bottles, administering what seemed like a scientifically controlled dosage of products so that the family would learn to consume sustainably rather than over-use.
With a sustainable philosophy embedded in my values from childhood, it’s natural that I want to apply it in my life today as Personal Care Packaging Support Manager with Unilever. Working in packaging for almost eight years, I have seen how recyclable packs are thoughtlessly thrown away after use, left floating in rivers or littering pavements rather than being put in a recycle bin. These small portion packs add up, generating tons of non-biodegradable waste that accumulate in polluting dumping sites across the world.
It can seem daunting to attempt to arrest this phenomenon when it’s occurring on such a massive scale – but there are steps we can all start taking, right now, to put it right.
Don't let waste go to waste
Environmental conservation can often be a hard sell but what many people don’t realise is that those ever-accumulating piles of waste can actually be turned into things that benefit us.
That’s true for people like my dad, who never let waste go to waste, and it’s true for multinational organisations too. Recycling starts at home, even if you’re one of the world’s biggest fast-moving consumer goods companies. At Unilever Philippines, we make sustainability a reality by producing useful and attractive bags, decorative items and other products directly from factory waste.
Not only is this policy good for limiting our environmental impact, it’s also empowering the local economy, as we are creating employment and training people in the communities we’re operating in to stitch waste sachets into bags. Once we start to act in more thoughtful ways, it’s surprising how many new opportunities for sustainability appear.
Illustrate the instant impact
At times my father might have come across as a little prudent... but the reality is, I was incredibly lucky to grow up under his guidance as, from very early on, I was moulded by a culture of making the most of the resources at hand. Not everybody is fortunate enough to be brought up this way – and so they must be guided a little later in life than my father guided me.
Over the past few years, most people I’ve spoken to have become (or already were) environmentally conscious. They are always surprised when what begins as a simple practice of segregating waste at home turns out to have a positive and pretty much instant impact.
At Unilever, we initiated a sachet collection programme with our partnered communities to help encourage and bring awareness not only of waste segregation – but also of the benefits and impact that can follow.
We weren’t simply saving some abstract idea of ‘the planet’, we were making a direct impact on our partnered communities’ day-to-day wellbeing by converting collected sachets into cement slabs that could be used for much needed infrastructure repairs and construction. By illustrating that positive, instant impact in their own lives, we were able to guide people to the more sustainable behaviours that support our global movement for a healthy planet.
Good ideas can always go further. We, in R&D, adapted this initiative to mobilise an impromptu team of Unilever employees, suppliers and customers to collect sachet waste and send it to the Unilever Sustainable Business and Communications team for recycling. Through collaborative collection, we received 95 tonnes of sachets, which can be converted into more than 1 million paving stones!
What’s very important for me is knowing that I am part of a company that contributes solutions to the very serious problems of land pollution and climate change, a company that empowers me to do the same. By working in partnership with Unilever, and collaborating with colleagues who share my sense of purpose, I am helped to realise my own hopes and dreams for a better world.
That better world is possible, if people follow the steps above and remember that, ultimately, sustainability is all about taking responsibility. For the benefit of ourselves, and especially our children, it is up to each and every one of us to take care of our environment. By thinking creatively and intelligently about the waste we produce – reducing the amount we use, reusing what can still be put to good use, and taking the rest to recovery centres – we will solve this problem and make a bright future for the generations to come.