Kimberly-Clark pilots circular economy model as it charts progress on water and waste
Kimberly-Clark is exploring opportunities around the circular economy as it looks to secure a more reliable supply of fibre for recycling and use in the products it sells.
The personal care brand touched on trial work it is undertaking in its latest sustainability report, which revealed the company met its water reduction goal ahead of schedule, but fell short of a 2013 landfill diversion target for manufacturing waste.
Kimberly-Clark Professional (KCP) in Latin America is piloting a circular economy model called Club KC, which it calls a "waste to finished product exchange". The scheme works by identifying companies with a high secondary fibre potential - companies which are also existing or potential customers for KCP products.
It then collects the recyclable fibre in exchange for finished KCP products. The pilot was launched in Costa Rica last year and to date, 27 customers have participated in the programme, resulting in more than 360 annualised metric tonnes of secondary fiber being collected. The scheme is now being rolled out to other Central American, Caribbean and Andean countries.
The initiative is part of a wider drive at Kimberly-Clark to focus on waste prevention and maximise the value of secondary materials. Its facilities teams are looking at how manufacturing by-products across the business can be managed to reduce the dependency on virgin raw materials, as well as provide financial value.
Over the past year, teams have been sharing best practices in scrap material sorting and sales, identifying material reuse and recycling opportunities within the company's operations and supply chain, and developing relationships with outside recyclers.
In 2013, the company's internal scrap sales team (KimCycle) generated $28m in sales in the US and in its Mexican health care operations. This was achieved by identifying new waste streams that had not previously generated value, and increasing the overall material values of the streams that had been previously identified.
Despite falling short of its 2013 goal to divert 85% of manufacturing waste from landfill (a 81.6% diversion rate was achieved, up from 78% in 2012), Kimberly-Clark said that 58% of its sites now don't send any manufacturing waste to landfill, and that it is on track to be near 90% landfill free by the end of 2014.
"One of the best ways to avoid sending manufacturing waste to the landfill is to stop making it. This effort compliments our strategy to reduce manufacturing cost," the report stated. The company added that it was on track to eliminate the production of more than 210 million diapers that don't meet quality standards, and that this would result in "significant" year-on-year cost savings.
"Our manufacturing team is developing similar plans for other child care products in 2014," the company revealed. "In addition to reducing manufacturing waste, there are additional sustainable benefits such as the reduction in energy used to produce the waste product and a reduction in transport costs of materials for manufacture of the product."
Meanwhile the company has reduced water use across its manufacturing operations by more than a quarter (26.4%), superseding its original 2015 25% reduction target. In 2013 its total global water use was 93 million cubic meters, representing a 10% reduction from its 2012 water use of 104 million cubic meters.
The most recent reductions were driven by a more efficient manufacturing footprint, water conservation programmes and upgraded water and wastewater systems that were designed with water use reduction as a key performance objective.
In addition, mill staff were tasked with optimising the water use reduction programmes and effluent recycling system that were installed in 2012. The shutdown of two production mills plus one tissue asset also contributed to the company's total water use reductions.
"In 2013 we also completed six major water reduction projects by initiating long loop water recycling or water treatment upgrade projects. Our Northfleet Mill, for example, upgraded and expanded its wastewater system to improve wastewater quality and enable more than half of its wastewater to be recycled and reused. Completing this project allowed the mill to meet regulatory requirements, reduce water usage and improve mill operations," the company report stated.