Tackling sachet waste
Unilever sells many millions of products in single-use sachets, particularly in developing and emerging markets. These often end up in landfill or as litter.
As part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have committed to developing and implementing a sustainable business model for handling our waste sachet streams by 2015.
Single-use sachets make our brands affordable to people on low incomes. They give people the opportunity to buy quality products in small quantities when they need them. They are also an efficient use of packaging, creating less waste by weight per millilitre of product sold than bottles. However, in the developing markets where sachets are most popular, infrastructure for recycling or disposal is often limited, and discarded sachets can end up in landfill or become an environmental eyesore.
New models of waste collection
As part of the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever has set out to help create a value for this waste product, so that there is an incentive for people to collect it. We have been exploring economic models which create incentives for collection and reuse of our packaging.
The pyrolosis pilot
We identified a potential technological approach, pyrolysis, which turns sachet material into fuel and recovers up to 60% of its embedded energy.
The results from one of our pyrolysis pilot projects provide encouraging news. Partnering with a company in Chennai, India, we have demonstrated ‘technical proof of principle’ of turning sachets, pouches and other flexible plastic waste into fuel oil at a viable cost.
Our Hindustan Unilever factory in Pondicherry, India, has successfully used fuel extracted from post-industrial sachet waste to power its plant. The fuel has also been burnt in cement kilns in Western India. Although the project is in its early days, we plan to extend its scope to include post-consumer sachet waste: creating a viable market for a steady supply of used sachets.
It is still early days on our path to creating a sustainable business model for handling our waste sachet streams. We continue to analyse the results of these pilots, first to see if they can create a sustainable value for discarded sachets, and secondly, to understand whether they provide a potential business model for waste recovery in economies where recycling and disposal infrastructures are still in development.
The challenge ahead is to find a way to incentivise collection on a large scale. This will require us to work in partnership with other users of flexible plastic waste as well as municipal authorities and NGOs.