Reducing waste from manufacturing

We are boosting efforts to reduce waste from our manufacturing operations. Watch the video to find out how over half our factories worldwide achieved our zero non-hazardous waste to landfill target by the end of 2012.

Targets & Performance

Reduce waste from our manufacturing

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

    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. (New Target 2012.)
  • All newly built factories will aim to generate less than half the waste of those in our 2008 baseline.
  • 76,000 fewer tonnes of total waste in 2012 than in 2008. This represents a 51% reduction per tonne of production. † Compared to 1995, this represents an 85% reduction in absolute terms.

  • 53% (133) of our manufacturing sites achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill by end 2012.
  • Seven new factories were specified in 2012 for opening in 2013. Their eco-efficient design aims for waste to be 50% less than the 2008 baseline and zero non-hazardous waste to be sent to landfill.

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

† Independently assured by PwC - see Independent assurance.

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.

Progress on reducing waste from manufacturing

In 2012 we halved our waste disposed from manufacturing sites compared to our 2008 baseline in both absolute terms and per tonne of production, whilst growing our business. This significant milestone – 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.

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 €10 million since 2008, achieved without the need for capital expenditure. In addition, reduction in waste in manufacturing since 2008 has avoided costs of €186 million. This clear financial benefit reinforces our belief that sustainability is good for business.

We were also able to divert waste away from disposal routes such as landfill through improved segregation of materials and better selection of recycling and reuse opportunities.

Reducing non-hazardous waste to landfill

In 2012 about 76,000 fewer tonnes of site waste were sent to landfill compared to our 2008 baseline. This is the equivalent of more than 1 million household bins of waste. By the end of 2012, over half of our 252 manufacturing sites achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill, up from 74 at the start of the year.

This has been achieved by eliminating waste in the factories. We also reduced, reused, recycled and recovered waste. For example, in Russia, Unilever recycles tea bags to make animal bedding or wallpaper. In the UK, we reduced the number of waste providers from 65 to one, maximising opportunities to identify recycling and beneficial recovery routes and achieving cost savings.

Our disposed waste measure includes hazardous and non-hazardous operational wastes from manufacturing sites that we do not reuse, recycle or recover. Our total disposed waste at the end of 2012 was 75,000 tonnes, of which a significant proportion originated from less than 5% of our manufacturing sites. We will focus on these sites in particular during 2013. Building on our good progress, in 2012 we set a stretching new target for 100% of our manufacturing sites to achieve zero non-hazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2015.

Hazardous waste and non-hazardous waste are two indicators that have been independently assured by PwC - see Independent assurance.

Total waste sent for disposal - Load per tonne of production (1995 - 2012)


Total waste sent for disposal - Total load (1995 - 2012)


In 2012 we achieved our highest ever recycling rate with approximately 92% of operational waste being reused, recycled or recovered.

Total waste sent for disposal - Total load (1995 - 2012)


Recycled waste as a proportion of total waste (2002–12)

Waste material recycled (2002 - 2012)


We achieved significant reductions in the disposal of both non-hazardous waste (22% per tonne of production less than in 2011) and hazardous waste (33% per tonne of production less than in 2011).

Non-Hazardous waste - Load per tonne of production (1995 - 2012)


Non-hazardous waste - Total load (2002 - 2012)


Hazardous waste - Load per tonne of production (1995 - 2012)



Hazardous waste - load per tonne of production 2012 data independently assured by PwC - see Independent assurance.

Our total waste footprint (2011-2012)


Site-level initiatives

We have achieved waste reduction in manufacturing through many different initiatives across our global 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.