Waste Not
Over 75% of Unilever's Factories Achieve Zero Waste to Landfill

Unilever announced today that all of its European factories have joined those in North America in achieving zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. Along with similar achievements in countries from Argentina to Indonesia, this means more than three-quarters of the company’s global factory network no longer sends such waste to landfill, up from 20 percent just three years ago.

Under the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, by 2020 total waste sent for disposal will be below 2008 levels, despite growing the business significantly. Achieving zero non-hazardous waste from factories is a key element of this target. Unilever says the achievement to date has been made possible with minimal need for capital expenditure and has avoided cumulative disposal costs of more than €17 million (US$23.4 million).

“We have seen a rapid acceleration in converting the network to zero waste. In 2010, 52 sites were there. We have now reached 200 sites,” said Pier Luigi Sigismondi, Unilever's Chief Supply Chain Officer. “We are on track to hit our revised target of 100 percent of sites by 2015, five years ahead of the original 2020 target.”

Sigismondi added that a focus on eliminating waste from manufacturing processes in North America, Europe, the majority of Latin America and a number of other countries has brought the final goal firmly in sight, adding that two key factors could be identified for this success:

Reducing waste at source was identified early on as a game changer when the campaign began in 2010.

Unilever says 100 percent Zero Non-Hazardous Waste to Landfill has been achieved at all European sites through the application of the "three Rs" principle: reduce, reuse and recycle. Where solid waste cannot be eliminated, reused or recycled, it is sent for energy recovery instead of to a landfill. Some examples include:

St Dizier, France — ice cream waste separated from packaging via a screw compressor, and passed on to create biogas. This resulted in a saving of €50, 000 per annum.

Leeds, UK — upgraded the Effluent Treatment Plant so that it could send over 1,000 tons of effluent for use as fertiliser for professional football pitch turf, saving over £35,000 per annum.

Creating a mindset for change across the entire network.

Unilever’s Tortuguitas site in Argentina was the second-largest waste-generating site in the company, yet the factory leadership team remained convinced they could achieve their target of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill in 2013.

Working with managers across the site, the Factory Director helped create a zero mindset which spread across the entire factory encouraging them to reach their goal. They formed “Green Teams” — groups of employees given specific responsibility for generating eco-efficiency ideas and creating projects to eliminate and reduce waste generation.

The zero mindset rapidly spread across Tortuguitas to encompass the way the site works with local suppliers, Unilever says. Supported by the Global CapEx fund “Small Action Big Difference” for sustainability projects, the Argentinean team developed product recovery equipment on their production lines This project alone has resulted in 88 tons per year of recovered product and €35,000 (US$45,000) costs avoided, all within a one year payback period.

Unilever plans to spread this knowledge across the remaining factories. The company’s environmental coordinator from the Africa cluster recently visited Tortuguitas to learn about the best practices. This knowledge will then be used to help make the necessary changes in helping all African factories achieve zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.

In related news, SC Johnson recently announced that it achieved zero waste-to-landfill status at its eighth global manufacturing facility, demonstrating progress toward its ambitious goal of reducing its global manufacturing waste by 70 percent by 2016. From 2000-2012, the company says it has reduced its global manufacturing waste by 62 percent as a ratio to production. And Terracycle has released new zero waste boxes to help companies recycle at the factory level. The boxes are available in varying sizes and price points, and include signage to help engage workers and increase compliance. When the box is full, it is shipped for free back to TerraCycle, where the collected materials will be upcycled into new products.

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