Waste & packaging

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Partnership For The Goals
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Reducing food loss and waste

We're addressing food loss and waste across our value chain through innovation and collaboration.

Inspiring consumers to reduce food waste

Five reasons the world must tackle food loss and waste

  • There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, yet 815 million people – one in nine – go to bed hungry every night.1
  • Around a third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted – that's about 1.3 billion tonnes each year.2
  • 28% of the world's agricultural area is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.3
  • Food loss and waste contributes heavily to climate change, making up around 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Around 1 billion tonnes of CO2e per year could be avoided if globally, humanity tackled food loss and waste across the value chain.4
  • Food waste costs the global economy around US$940 billion each year.5 Reducing this waste across the value chain is also a major business opportunity, valued at US$405 billion.6

Tackling the global food system on waste

Tackling food waste is an opportunity to address food insecurity and mitigate climate change – and it requires a global approach. It means focusing on the systems by which food is produced, consumed and disposed of, by our industry and others.

That's a major challenge, and one we cannot address alone. Although we’re working to reduce wasted or lost food in our value chain – through innovation, design and outreach – we’ve got a long way to go before we can have an impact on the global context. That’s why we're also working with partners towards this wider systemic change.

Paul Polman, our former CEO, is a member of Champions 12.3, a global coalition of leaders from governments, businesses and civil society, dedicated to accelerating progress toward achieving target 12.3 of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

Part of our Sustainable Nutrition strategy focuses on reducing waste through working with our brands, suppliers, chefs and consumers. To mend the world’s food system, our vision is of Sustainable Nutrition – foods and refreshments that taste good, feel good and are a force for good.

Consumer Goods Forum Food Waste Resolution

In 2015, we helped to shape the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Food Waste Resolution. This Resolution commits to halving disposed food waste by 2025 in retail and manufacturing operations, as well as supporting food waste reductions at consumer level and across supply chains.

During 2016-2017, we worked with the CGF and the World Resources Institute (WRI) to develop our reporting methodology (PDF | 333KB) – to measure our food waste footprint in our direct operations – so we can aim to be as efficient as possible in our manufacturing. We use the Global Food Loss and Waste Standard, an accounting and reporting guide that helps quantify how much food is lost or wasted in our manufacturing operations.

In 2016 – our benchmark year for our food waste footprint - from our 165 food manufacturing operations, we disposed of 363g food waste per tonne of food produced. In 2017, we disposed of 228g food waste per tonne of food reduced from 156 food manufacturing operations – this is a 37% reduction compared to 2016. We send most of our food waste for reuse, recycling and energy recovery – that is, energy generated from the incineration process. Only 0.54% of the waste from our food sites in 2017 was disposed into landfill, sewers or incinerated without energy recovery.

As most of our food products have a long shelf-life – such as mustard, ice cream and stock cubes – we don’t produce much food waste in our direct operations. However, we’re continuing to reduce how much waste we generate. For example, if our ice cream packaging lines stop working, we safely store the ice cream so it can be packaged when the lines are fixed, rather than becoming food waste. And when raw materials aren’t used in finished goods, we don’t want to waste them. In Argentina for example, we use vegetable waste as soil fertiliser.

Since our food waste footprint number is very low, we have agreed with the CGF that it is not impactful to focus on halving it by 2025. Instead, we will continue to report our disposed food waste from manufacturing and focus our efforts on reducing food loss and waste across our value chain. We will do this by engaging with suppliers, retailers and consumers and advocating for food system reform.


Red and green tomatoes

"Squeeze for green"

If a tomato wasn't red, it wasn't going in. That was the traditional rule adhered to by ketchup producers – a rule that our Hellmann's brand felt needed to be broken. Selecting only red tomatoes meant that up to 10% of the harvest was discarded. So, we developed a new recipe, with fresh-tasting herbs and spices, that used green tomatoes too.

Getting the flavour right was just the beginning. Because rejecting green tomatoes – which are firmer than red ones – had been standard industry practice for years, our supplier's harvest and factory machinery had built in 'red selectors'. With the next tomato harvest fast approaching, our team had to work quickly with our tomato supplier, Agraz, to find a fix.

Agraz agreed to an innovative experiment. Instead of separating the fruit as usual, Agraz adapted its process so it could turn off the colour-sorting machine – and red and green could be processed together.

The result was Hellmann's Red and Green Tomato Ketchup, launched in April 2017 – with initial feedback telling us it tastes as good as ever. The innovation is potentially preventing 2.5 million tomatoes going to waste each year.

Food banks: addressing waste and addressing want

Food banks play a part in addressing food waste while also helping people who live in poverty. Thanks to our broad portfolio of brands and the reach of our operations, we are in a unique position to contribute to food banks, by redistributing surplus stock that would have otherwise gone to waste. By the end of the 2016, over 8 million people had benefited from our various food bank partnerships and hunger relief activities across the world.

We work with several food bank organisations. Since 2014, we’ve been working with the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA), helping food banks develop and extend their reach through organising educational programmes, financial assistance, purchasing new equipment and, in the south of France, sponsoring cooking lessons for families. In 2015, we partnered with The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), an international non-profit organisation. In the UK, we work with Oxfam to support setting up new community food banks and redistributing surplus food. And in the US, we support Feeding America, the leading domestic hunger-relief charity.

In 2017, we funded an IT pilot project aimed at improving inventory management systems in Panama, working with the local food bank Banco de Alimentos Panama, GFN and Accenture Development Partnerships. Improving inventory systems helps food banks distribute products efficiently and ensures no products are discarded due to reaching their expiry date. In under four months, the food bank saved more than 30,600kg of food.


Don't waste food programme in Argentina

#DontWasteFood: wasting less in Argentina

No one wants to see food thrown away when there are people struggling to get by – and the best way to address food waste is in partnership with others. In Argentina, where 16 million tonnes of food is wasted each year7, we’re working with consumers, retailers, non-governmental organisations, the UN and the Argentine Ministry of Agroindustry to ensure less food is thrown away.

Food banks play a vital role. We've been working with the Buenos Aires Food Bank since 2004, donating more than 6,500 tonnes of food in that time, and reaching over 110,000 people every day. It is a relationship that makes sense commercially as well as socially. By donating food that would otherwise be destroyed, we have avoided more than €153,000 in destruction costs during 2017 and instead, reaching the people who need it.

Spreading the message, sharing top tips

We've broadened our work to reduce food waste through the #DontWasteFood campaign. Our partnership with Carrefour, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Ministry of Agroindustry offers people tips on how to buy food, plan meals, cook smarter, and use leftovers, while avoiding food waste. Our Knorr and Hellmann’s brands have been sharing recipes and tips for using up food leftovers – with the help of our products – through social media and advertising.

In the last two years - 2016 and 2017 - our food waste messages have reached 2.6 million people through news articles, 8 million consumers through Carrefour’s stores, more than 30,000 followers on Facebook, and 344,570 Twitter impressions with 8,938 interactions. In December 2017, we launched the ‘Save the food during the holidays’ campaign with Buenos Aires Food Bank and QuieroAyudar.org, which reached 15 million people through news articles and had 3.4 million impressions in social media.

Our work doesn't stop there. As well as calling on our employees to join the movement – we measured a 16% reduction in food waste at our headquarters site in Buenos Aires in 2017 – we're also encouraging people to think about what happens to their leftover food at their favourite restaurants, not just at home.

Unilever Food Solutions – helping chefs cut waste

In the UK, food waste costs the food and hospitality industry £2.5 billion each year. Around 920,000 tonnes of food – equivalent to 1.3 billion meals – is thrown away annually, despite the fact that three-quarters of it could have been eaten. Through our foodservice business, Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), we’re helping chefs and caterers to cut their food waste and see how much money they can save in the process.

Our Wise Up on Waste app – launched in the UK in 2013, in partnership with the facilities services provider, ISS Food & Hospitality (F&H), allows chefs to track and reduce food waste. In 2017, the app was used 5,378 times in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Australia.

In Australia and New Zealand, where UFS works with the NGO food rescue services OzHarvest, KiwiHarvest and Kaibosh, we donate AUD $0.50 cents to our partners each time a client purchases a case of selected UFS products. This enables our partners to collect excess food – both raw ingredients and made meals – for free so that it can go to people in need. In 2017, 30,949 meals were distributed through the partnership, which raised AUD $15,474.

1 World Food Programme: http://www1.wfp.org/zero-hunger

2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196402/icode/

4 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/nr/sustainability_pathways/docs/FWF_and_climate_change.pdf (PDF | 5.24MB)

5 Champions 12.3: https://ec.europa.eu/food/sites/food/files/safety/docs/fw_lib_wri-business-case_2017.pdf (PDF | 692KB)

6 The Business Commission: http://businesscommission.org/our-work/valuing-the-sdg-prize-in-food-and-agriculture

7 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/in-action/agronoticias/detail/en/c/895632/

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