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Our waste & packaging footprint

We measure the waste impact of our products, including consumer use and disposal, setting targets and reporting our performance.

Unilever recycling aerosols

Measuring our footprint

We use over 2 million tonnes of packaging each year. This ranges from paper, board, and metals such as aluminum and steel, to glass and mixed material laminates used in our sachets and pouches.

We assess our waste by looking at the packaging and product leftover within the pack. We take this approach so that we can develop innovations which address both the packaging and product that is disposed after use.

We also look at packaging waste in the context of local recycling infrastructure. If systems are in place to reuse and capture the value contained in packaging, this reduces the overall environmental impact of the packaging.

We measure the waste impact of our products by including packaging material that has not been reused, recovered or recycled, and the amount of product left over in the pack after consumer use.

We calculate our waste metric annually both at an absolute level and ‘per consumer use’, this means for example the waste impact of one serving of soup.

For this calculation, we gather data for a large group of products that is representative of our portfolio. We include products from all our 12 sub-categories: Beverages, Deodorants, Dressings, Hair Care, Household Care, Ice Cream, Laundry, Oral Care, Savoury, Skin Care, Skin Cleansing, and Spreads and Cooking. We focus our calculation on 14 key countries, which represents around 70% of our sales volume.

Preventing packaging ending up in landfill requires a new approach. This is why we have embraced circular economy thinking in our approach to tackling waste.

Gavin Warner, Director, Sustainable Business

Our 2016 waste footprint

Our absolute waste footprint is around 767,000 tonnes, which is equivalent to 0.6g waste per consumer use. In 2016, our waste impact per consumer use has reduced by 28% compared to 20101. This reduction was achieved through a combination of: disposing of brands which happened to have packaging which was not widely recycled (e.g. Ragu in the US); improvements in the recycling and recovery of packaging materials; and packaging innovations which have reduced the volume of materials used.

Our analysis shows that primary packaging accounts for over 60% of our total waste footprint. Products within our Laundry, Hair Care and Beverages sub-categories make the largest contribution to our waste footprint, accounting for more than one-third of our total waste footprint.

  • 60%

    Primary packaging

  • 14%

    Transport packaging

  • National index of material recycled and recovered/estimates

  • 24%

    Product leftovers

Measured 1 July 2015 - 30 June 2016. The diagram above shows the contribution of primary and secondary packaging minus national recycling and recovery rates (packaging that is not recycled, recovered, or reused) to our waste footprint. We also account for product leftovers (the product left behind in the pack when a consumer discards it). Together these make up the waste footprint related to the disposal of our products.

We measure the reduction in the weight of our packaging, which is reported in Waste Targets & Performance.

The waste generated by our manufacturing operations is also measured separately as part of our eco-efficiency in manufacturing programme.

Assurance of our waste metric

In 2017, PwC have carried out independent assurance of our latest waste performance measure (2016) as well as our 2010 waste baseline for the second year. Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme.

1 The 2010 baseline has been restated by a reduction of 0.04g per consumer use for Waste. Applied to our 2015 results, the restated 2015 waste performance would have been a 26% decrease instead of a 29% decrease per consumer use compared to the 2010 baseline. Therefore, our 2016 performance of a 28% reduction per consumer use is an improvement versus our 2015 performance.

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