Reducing Waste from Manufacturing

We are boosting efforts to reduce waste from our manufacturing operations.

Targets & Performance

Reduce waste from manufacturing

  • By 2020 total waste sent for disposal will be at or below 2008 levels despite significantly higher volumes.

    Reduce waste from manufacturing:

    This represents a reduction of around 40% per tonne of production.

    Versus a 1995 baseline, this represents an 80% reduction per tonne of production and a 70% absolute reduction.

  • By 2015 all manufacturing sites will achieve zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.
  • All newly built factories will aim to generate less than half the waste of those in our 2008 baseline.
  • Approximately 97,000 fewer tonnes of total waste disposed in 2013 than in 2008. This represents a 66%† reduction per tonne of production.

    Compared to 1995, this represents an 89% reduction in absolute terms.

  • 75% (186) of our manufacturing sites achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill by end 2013, an increase of more than 50 sites compared to 2012.
  • New factories in India and Turkey started production in 2013. When fully operational each aims to dispose of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill and generate less than half the waste of those factories in a representative 2008 baseline.

  • achieved
  • on-plan
  • off-plan
  • %of target achieved

Our Perspective

Our performance on reducing wastes disposed from manufacturing sites has significantly exceeded our expectations against our 2020 target. For this reason, in 2012 we introduced a more stretching target - increasing the scale of our ambition (zero disposed non-hazardous waste). We are already well on the way to achieving this.

75% (186) of our manufacturing sites disposed of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2013 - an increase of more than 50 sites during the year. Our North American manufacturing team were the first operating region to achieve this milestone at all sites. At the end of 2013 both Europe and Latin America were also very close to achieving this goal too. All manufacturing sites in 38 countries now dispose of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.

The scale and speed of reduction of disposed waste has been achieved by deploying best practice everywhere and through developing business partnerships with our waste suppliers that draw on the expertise that we collectively possess. These improvements have been driven by clear sponsorship and commitment of our senior leadership team and our employees.

A small number of sites contribute significantly to our remaining disposed waste footprint. During 2013 we focused our efforts in supporting these sites to reduce waste at source, segregate waste streams and to identify cost effective waste management routes to recycle and recover materials. The Zero Non-Hazardous Waste to Landfill programme has been a major contributing factor in reducing our total waste by making sites more aware of their waste streams and identifying opportunities to eliminate and reduce wastes at source.

Our significant achievements with non-hazardous wastes have also driven a reduction in disposed hazardous wastes which have in turn reduced by an even greater proportion. The relatively small quantity of hazardous wastes generated by our manufacturing sites (approximately 3% of our disposed waste footprint) are not included in our Zero Waste to Landfill target due to legal controls in some countries which specify their end-of-life treatment.

Finding new uses for waste

In manufacturing, apart from eliminating waste, we also employ three other means of cutting our waste - reuse, recycling and recovery. Examples include: the introduction of reusable transit packaging in our Hefei factory in China; waste mayonnaise converted to biofuel; and effluent plant sludges in Turkey and the Philippines given a second life as alternative raw materials in construction products.

Our Approach

Our targets commit us to maintaining our 2008 levels of greenhouse gas, water and waste impacts against a backdrop of significant growth in our business. To build a detailed plan to achieve this, we reviewed the likely areas of growth from a geographic and product perspective. We also looked at the current environmental performance of all our sites.

As a result we identified a number of '‘levers’' or areas of potential change which will deliver reductions in our environmental impact, including waste. We asked all our manufacturing sites to assess themselves against these levers, which showed us where the opportunities for reductions lie. Projects have been identified by individual sites which, when implemented, will further reduce waste.

We are also extending our World Class Manufacturing programme, which sets a global benchmark for the reduction of waste and cost. By 2014, almost half our total production costs will be from sites within this programme.

Progress on reducing waste from manufacturing

In 2013 we further reduced waste disposed from manufacturing sites by 30% compared to the previous year. Disposed wastes are now approximately 97,000 tonnes or 66%† lower per tonne of production than in our 2008 baseline year.

This significant achievement - which has far exceeded our initial target - was achieved through waste elimination and reduction activities and by diverting waste away from disposal routes such as landfill.

In 2013 we achieved our highest ever recycling rate with approximately 94% of operational waste being reused, recycled or recovered.

Waste material recycled (2002-2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Our manufacturing systems measure the efficiency of conversion of raw materials and packaging materials into finished goods. Moving waste materials up the waste hierarchy for beneficial reuse, recycling or recovery has equated to a cost saving of almost €17 million since 2008, achieved without the need for capital expenditure. In addition, reduction in waste in manufacturing since 2008 has avoided costs of €182 million. This clear financial benefit reinforces our belief that sustainability is good for business.

Reducing non-hazardous waste to landfill

We reached a significant milestone during 2013 when 75% of all Unilever factories across the world, from Costa Rica to Japan, sent no non-hazardous waste to landfill. Our North America manufacturing team was the first of our operating regions to receive the accolade of having 100% of sites achieve this milestone. At the end of 2013 both Europe and Latin America were also very close to achieving this goal. All manufacturing sites in 38 countries now dispose of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.

Some of our manufacturing sites are located in countries such as Russia and Thailand where the current national waste management infrastructure provides fewer opportunities to divert wastes away from the usual disposal routes. Similarly in some countries such as Australia, waste facilities that enable recycling and beneficial recovery of wastes are located at environmentally and commercially prohibitive distances from our manufacturing sites.

We are therefore supporting these sites in eliminating wastes at source and evaluating new technologies to minimise waste disposal.

In 2012 we added a stretching new target to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan - that none of our factories across the world will send any non-hazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2015.

In parallel to completing our mission to avoid the environmental impacts of waste disposal, we are re-emphasising our focus on reducing all types of waste at source as waste prevention yields the greatest financial and environmental benefits.

Total waste sent for disposal - Load per tonne of production (1995-2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Total waste sent for disposal - Total load (1995-2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

We achieved significant reductions in the disposal of both non-hazardous waste (29% per tonne of production less than in 2012) and hazardous waste (34% per tonne of production less than in 2012).

Non-hazardous waste - Load per tonne of production (1995-2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Non-hazardous waste - Total load (1995-2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Hazardous waste - Load per tonne of production (1995-2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Our total waste footprint (2013)

2013 data = 1 October 2012 - 30 September 2013. Previous years are calendar year (1 January to 31 December).

Site-level initiatives

We have achieved waste reduction in manufacturing through many different initiatives across our operations. Some examples of the ways we have found to beneficially reuse, recover and recycle waste are:

  • Introduction of reusable transit packaging in our Hefei factory in China to reduce the amount of plastic shrink wrap used on pallets by over 100 tonnes per year

  • Effluent plant sludges from factories in the Philippines and Turkey are now used in prefabricated construction products and as an alternative raw material in cement production

  • Tea bag paper from our St Petersburg factory in Russia is recycled into filters for other industries and wallpaper, saving approximately €8,000 per year in disposal costs

  • Any waste mayonnaise from our Purfleet factory in the UK is recycled into biofuel

  • Tea dust from our Pietermaritzburg factory in South Africa is recycled into compost which is used in community garden projects.

New Waste Recovery Routes in Latin America

Many of our Latin American sites have historically achieved high reuse, recycling and recovery rates of 80-90%. However some remain some of our largest disposed waste footprint sites.

With clear commitment to achieving our Zero Non-Hazardous Waste to Landfill challenge, sites such as our Foods factories in Brazil, Argentina and Chile and Home Care sites in Bolivia, El Salvador and Honduras have adopted new ways of working to tackle residual disposed wastes.

Zero landfill team at Cochabamba BoliviaEach site has undertaken a detailed mapping of its mixed waste streams and has maximised the opportunities for segregation through the provision of dedicated waste storage ‘green points’. In addition, training has been provided to all people involved in waste management and detailed action plans have been developed for reuse, recycling or recovery. In regions with few options for recycling, our sites collaborated to develop suppliers and synergies in waste management processes and also developed new alternatives to reuse or to recycle wastes.

Waste segregation stationFor some waste types where no viable reuse or recycling opportunity existed, the previously disposed material is being utilised as a substitute feedstock in the production of cement to recover the energy and mineral content of the material. Composting of canteen waste, by-products of production processes and other organic materials provides the opportunity for beneficial recovery of waste materials by producing soil conditioners and fertilizer.

The scale and speed of this achievement was driven by clear sponsorship and commitment of our senior management leadership team.

† Independently assured by PwC