Unilever gears up to drive out waste across supply chain

Unilever has brought forward its zero waste to landfill target by five years to 2015 as it starts to focus on reducing waste at source across its global manufacturing network.

During the past 12 months, 63 of its manufacturing sites achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill status, taking the total number to 137 out of 252 sites in total across the world. The company is confident the remaining 115 sites will achieve this goal by the end of 2015.

While non-hazardous waste makes up the vast majority of Unilever’s streams (over 95%), the company is faced with the complexity of hazardous waste definitions across different countries. That said, it has reduced hazardous waste outputs by 80% since 2008.

These latest gains came while Unilever reported annual sales of €51bn, up from €40bn in 2010, when Unilever launched its sustainable living plan. A key objective of the plan is to double the size of its business while halving environmental impacts by 2020.

According to Unilever’s eco-efficiency manager Tony Dunnage, the company is now actively looking to minimise its waste arisings throughout its manufacturing supply chain while extracting greater value from the waste it does produce.

“It’s great we are talking about landfill diversion, but the real value and resource efficiency gains are further up the waste hierarchy,” he told edie.

“Most of our cost savings will come from reducing waste at source. So by optimising material use, lightweighting packaging and reducing crop wastage in the fields.”

Unilever is now working with its suppliers and service providers to incentivise greater reduction measures. This includes streamlining the number of waste contractors it deals with to optimise performance.

In the UK, where the company operates 11 manufacturing sites, the company was working with between 60 to 70 unique waste contractors alone, with over 300 points of contact. It now just deals with one major waste contractor and is looking to replicate this model in other countries.

Dunnage said this consolidation not only resulted in a six-figure cost saving for the company, but led to a much tighter auditing process for its waste streams.

Going forward, closed loop opportunities are now presenting themselves and will be a key strategy in terms of delivering added value, he added.

“Within the circular value piece, we are talking to our suppliers – is there some agricultural waste we can utilise for example in terms of what’s been grown on our behalf. We are actively exploring opportunities where we own plantations as well.”

Dunnage also revealed that Unilever is now trialling a number of small-scale advanced thermal treatment technologies that could potentially be placed on-site where landfill diversion is proving particularly challenging.

“Getting to zero waste to landfill for some of our remaining sites may mean being creative – we haven’t ruled [on-site treatment] out. This might involve an investment decision, or a strategic partnership,” he confirmed.

Maxine Perella

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