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Unilever achieves zero waste to landfill across global factory network


Average read time: 4 minutes

London - Unilever today announced it has achieved a key sustainability target of sending zero non-hazardous* waste to landfill from its global factory network. Believed to be a global first for delivering zero waste on this scale, more than 240 factories in 67 countries making products for brands such as Magnum, Knorr, Dove and Domestos have now eliminated landfill waste.

Unilever logo building

Avoiding €200million of costs & creating hundreds of jobs

Unilever has stated its ambition is to double the size of its business while reducing its environmental impact. The company is the Food Products Industry Leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and last week was awarded a Gold Class distinction for its excellent sustainability performance by RobecoSAM in their Sustainability Yearbook 2015. The zero waste to landfill target forms a key element of Unilever’s sustainable growth ambitions.

Reducing waste at source remains the number one priority, coupled with Unilever and its project partners finding innovative solutions for any remaining waste. For example, in Cote D’Ivoire, waste has been turned into low cost building materials; in India, organic waste is being composted and shared with the local community to grow vegetables and in China, waste from Hefei, Unilever’s largest factory in Asia, is being used in the manufacture of bricks and paving.

Eliminating waste has resulted in more than €200m of cost avoidance for Unilever and created hundreds of jobs. In Egypt, for example, the local team has launched a programme which empowers disabled employees to earn extra income by recycling waste material from Unilever’s production lines, proving that reducing waste makes sound business sense.

Achieving zero waste to landfill

Unilever has a strong track record on designing out waste from factories and since 2012 – when zero waste to landfill was added as a Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) target – the company has focused on embedding a “zero waste mind-set” to rapidly accelerate the speed of the global roll out programme, increase resource resilience and reach the USLP target well ahead of schedule.

To achieve zero-waste to landfill Unilever has adopted the four ‘R’ approach – firstly reducing waste at source then reusing, recovering or recycling any non-hazardous waste that remains. It has meant reconsidering every single material that is consumed in a factory - from reusing packing materials from supplier deliveries to food waste from staff cafeterias.

Pier Luigi Sigismondi, Unilever Chief Supply Chain Officer, said: “Reaching this landmark is the result of a huge mind-set shift throughout our organisation and a great example of Unilever driving sustainable business growth. Thousands of employees - our ‘zero-makers’ – from across the business have developed some really innovative solutions to eliminate waste. I am incredibly proud of what we and our partners have achieved.

“However we cannot stop here. Our focus now is on becoming a zero waste company and working towards a zero waste value chain by encouraging our suppliers and customers to join us on this mission. We are also committed to developing an open source approach and sharing our ‘zero waste framework’ and experience with other organisations to drive global change and create a more sustainable future”.

Notes to Editors

  • *Hazardous waste represents a very small percentage of total factory waste – the types of materials that make up hazardous waste vary due to differing local waste regulations around the world.

Some examples of the solutions that have been used to deal with the waste:

In Egypt, Rania Bahaa, an Environmental Specialist at Unilever Mashreq in Egypt was part of the launch team for a programme which empowers disabled employees to earn extra income by recycling waste material from Unilever’s production lines.

In Mangalore, India, the green team has created its own compost to grow vegetables like pumpkins, green chillies and lemons. The excess compost is used by the wider community and distributed to the local orphanage and homeless shelters.

The cement industry is responsible for 6% of global CO2 emissions and has traditionally relied heavily on fossil fuels. In recent years the industry has invested in technology which allows it to burn non-fossil fuels. Instead of burning gas or coal in the kilns, waste that Unilever currently cannot find a recycling option for (for example in Indonesia) is used to provide energy in the cement making process.

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