Waste & packaging

Our waste impact per consumer use has reduced by around 7% since 2010.*

Our commitment

Halve the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020*

Our performance

Our waste impact per consumer use has reduced by around 7% since 2010*

What matters most

For the Waste commitment we have three targets that are most material to us: Reduce packaging, Increase recycling and recovery rates and Increase recycled content. (M) indicates our most material targets.

  • achieved: 1
  • on-plan: 16
  • off-plan: 1
  • %of target achieved: 2

Our perspective

Packaging plays a key role in protecting our products. But it can also end up as waste in landfill, dumping grounds or as litter. Increasing resource scarcity means it is more urgent than ever to be efficient with packaging and find solutions to deal with ‘post consumer waste’ – packaging and product thrown away after use by our consumers. This is particularly important in developing markets where infrastructure to manage packaging waste has not kept pace with the rapid rise in consumption.

Our approach is to reduce, reuse and recycle. There is a clear business case. By reducing packaging we can gain cost benefits in materials, energy and transport.

We have made good progress in reducing our waste. In manufacturing, over half our sites achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill in 2012 and we are setting a new target for all our sites to achieve this by 2015.

Reducing our waste impact

Progress has also been made in lightweighting our packaging. This often involves selecting new materials which enable less material use. Our dedicated global team of experts, called the Materials Capability Group, develops long-term innovative solutions to reduce packaging. They work with specialist suppliers to draw on the latest technologies which are then applied across our product categories.

More of our packaging is now recyclable or contains recycled material, but we are finding that tackling post-consumer waste is more challenging.

We are continuing to work with others – from influencing government policy to learning from suppliers and waste service providers, as well as collaborating with other industry players on non-competitive priorities, such as developing new materials that can be easily recycled. We have initiated a number of pilots on materials which are usually considered more difficult to recycle at scale. We will collaborate with others across our value chain to develop new end-to-end solutions.

Reduce packaging (M)

  • By 2020 we will reduce the weight of packaging that we use by a third through:

    - lightweighting materials

    - optimizing structural and material design

    - developing concentrated versions of our products

    - eliminating unnecessary packaging.

  • An estimated 9.5% reduction in weight per consumer use over 2011-12 compared to 2010, achieved through a combination of lightweighting and material design optimization.
  • In 2012, US packaging redesign initiatives that reduced the weight of packaging and materials include Ragu® pallets shrink film gauge reduction and banding removal eliminating 1 ton of plastic per year and elimination of corrugate across multiple brands, including Suave® hair displays, Nexxus® cartons, and Q-tips® floorstand structures.

More on reducing packaging

Our perspective

We are making good progress to reduce our packaging. We have traditionally focused on reducing packaging material simply as a route to cutting costs. But our focus has changed. We are now focusing on developing innovation in light, stronger and better materials that have a lower environmental impact. To help us do this we have established a Materials Capability Group who works together with suppliers to develop new technologies.

New technologies are critical to ensure we have a continuous program for packaging reductions. For example, we have reduced the number of layers and the thickness of the sachet materials used for our hair products in South East Asia, and we will now roll this out across India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Once the rollout is complete, we will save around 2,500 tonnes of material.

Cutting packaging costs

The material we use to wrap our ice cream brands, Twister, Paddle Pop and Fruttare is made of layers. Our R&D experts, working with academics and suppliers, have developed new materials which reduce both the number of layers and their thickness.

The results speak for themselves. These brands have reduced their use of flow wrap from 19 specifications to just three worldwide. This change reduces the amount of packaging we use and has immediate business benefits. We started rolling out these materials in 2012. When our roll-out is complete, we anticipate a saving of around €1.3 million, complemented by a material reduction of around 530 tonnes.

New technology saves money

During 2011 we launched a new bottle design in Indonesia and Thailand for our Citra skin care brand. This resulted in a weight reduction of 365 tonnes of material. In 2012, we introduced a new technology – bi-modal resin – and we saved a further 70 tonnes of material. The same technology is now being rolled out across many more of our skin care and hair care brands and will bring further savings in material and cost.

Recycle packaging (M)

  • Working in partnership with industry, governments and NGOs, we aim to increase recycling and recovery rates on average by 5% by 2015 and by 15% by 2020 in our top 14 countries. For some this means doubling or even tripling existing recycling rates.

    We will make it easier for consumers to recycle our packaging by using materials that best fit the end-of-life treatment facilities available in their countries.

  • By 2020 we will increase the recycled material content in our packaging to maximum possible levels. This will act as a catalyst to increase recycling rates.
  • 3.5% increase in recycling and recovery rates, over the 2010 average Recycling and Recovery Index (RRI), averaged across our top 14 countries. Some of this increase resulted from improved data.
  • 3,126 tonnes of post-consumer recycled materials incorporated into our rigid plastic packaging.
  • In 2012, the US launched a project with recycling resource Earth911 to test the hypothesis that deodorant sticks can be economically recycled. If the test is successful, we will provide the recycling industry with information that shows multi-resin deodorant sticks, which are currently being thrown in the trash, can be profitably recycled.

  • In 2012, Dove® partnered with Recyclebank to educate consumers on what plastics are recyclable, what recycling symbols to look for, and to encourage consumers to recycle bathroom products that are recyclable. The Dove® module was viewed 272,000 times.

More on recycling packaging

Our perspective

We have made modest progress against our targets.

This area is complex, as we anticipated. In some countries there is almost no infrastructure available to collect waste and some materials cannot readily be recycled as technologies do not yet exist. In other countries with more developed infrastructure, certain packaging formats, although manufactured from popular materials, such as PET, are still not collected and recycled in significant volumes.

We are using the knowledge gained from infrastructure studies and pilot initiatives to develop the most suitable solutions, whether this involves developing a new recycling waste stream or reviewing the materials used in our products.

Encouraging more recycling

We are building our knowledge of recycling in several ways.

In the US, our Dove and Suave brands are working with Recyclebank to incentivize consumers to recycle more bathroom products. Unilever Ventures has invested indirectly in Recyclebank as it will help us increase our understanding of how to encourage people to recycle more.

In Europe, we have commissioned studies in several countries aimed at understanding the recycling infrastructure for polypropylene (PP) pots, trays and tubs. These are widely used by our margarine brands, Wall’s ice creams and Vaseline jars. The studies have shown that this type of packaging is hardly recycled and, at best, is burnt for energy. We are currently engaged in discussions with players from each stage of the recycling process. We intend to pilot a project in 2013 focused on creating a viable business model which stimulates greater demand for PP pots, trays and tubs to be collected, sorted and recycled.

Deeper insights drive action

Our detailed analysis shows that national recycling rates for particular materials often lack clarity. For example, a 90% recycling rate for aluminium packaging may be based largely on recycling of aluminium drinks cans, and it is therefore inappropriate to apply the same rate when calculating waste to landfill for our aluminium aerosol packaging.

This analysis helps focus our efforts to increase recycling for specific packaging formats.

For example we have increased aerosol deodorant recycling through strategic partnerships with industry associations and some of our customers in the UK, Brazil and Mexico.

Reuse packaging

  • We will provide consumers with refills in our home and personal care portfolio to make it possible to reuse the primary pack.
  • We introduced refills in several markets during 2012, including China, India, South Africa and the UK.

More on reusing packaging

Our Perspective

We are having some success in developing markets. We sell refill pouches in China and South Africa for some of our shampoo brands.

In developed markets this area remains challenging as consumers sometimes see refills as unappealing. However, we continue to experiment and are expanding our range. An example is Timotei shampoo’s 500 ml refill, launched in the UK in 2012.

Rethinking waste avoids over €196 million in costs

We estimate that between 2008 and 2012 our focused manufacturing program of waste elimination, reuse, recycling and recovery has avoided costs of over €186 million in raw and packaging materials and has driven down waste disposal costs by more than €10 million.

Tackle sachet waste

  • Our goal is to develop and implement a sustainable business model for handling our sachet waste streams by 2015.
  • We are investigating the potential of a new technology to find uses for sachet waste. We believe this will generate higher value returns for sachet waste, thereby helping us to build a stronger business case, which for the moment remains a challenge.

More on tackling sachet waste

Our perspective

Empty sachets are generally considered not worth collecting because they are small and lightweight so they lack value. Our ambition is to develop a viable business model for sachet waste which continues to provide the price and convenience benefits of sachets to low-income consumers whilst tackling the environmental issues associated with their use, such as litter and lack of recyclability.

In our 2011 Progress Report we shared the results of our trials using pyrolysis – the recovery of energy from sachet waste. We proved that the resulting fuel was of high enough quality for our Hindustan Unilever factory. To make the oil useable and profitable we have been working with our supplier in India to set up a distillation column. But scale-up is proving challenge.

In 2012 we identified a new technology which we believe is the next generation to pyrolysis. Small-scale trials have shown a high yield and superior quality end product. We are currently in negotiations with the developer and other value-chain partners with the aim of commissioning the first commercial plant in Indonesia during 2013.

One of the biggest barriers to turning pyrolysis or next generation technology into a business opportunity for reprocessors is taking collection of sachet waste to scale. We have engaged NGOs in India to assist us and we plan to test different approaches in 2013.

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.
  • 5353% (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.

    *To be independently assured by PwC in 2013.

  • In the US, through a combination of waste reduction and waste recycling we reduced total waste per tonne of production in 2012 by 24% compared to 2011. When compared with 2008, the reduction was 54% in total waste per tonne of production.
  • At year end 2012, 86% of US manufacturing sites had achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill status. In 2013, 100% of our US manufacturing sites will achieve zero non-hazardous waste to landfill status.

More on reducing waste from our manufacturing

Our Perspective

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. This equates 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.

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 one million household bins of waste.

By the end of 2012, 133 manufacturing sites achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. This is over half our 252 sites, up from 74 at the start of the year. In the UK for example, we reduced the number of waste providers from 65 to one, maximizing opportunities to identify recycling and beneficial recovery routes and achieving cost savings.

Building on our good progress, in 2012 we set a stretching new target for 100% of our manufacturing sites to achieve zero nonhazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2015.

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.

Zero waste to landfill in half our factories

Over half our 252 factories across the world, from Costa Rica to Japan, now send no non-hazardous waste to landfill.

We have set a stretching new target – none of our factories across the world will send any non-hazardous waste to landfill by the end of 2015. 

† Independently assured by PwC

Eliminate PVC

  • We will eliminate PVC (polyvinyl chloride) from all packaging by 2012 (where technical solutions exist).
  • 9999% of PVC removed from our portfolio by end 2012.

More on eliminating PVC

Our perspective

We committed to eliminate PVC from our packaging in 2009. Virtually all our packaging is now free of PVC. To get there our R&D teams around the world have developed and trialled new materials and our supply chain have invested in new equipment.

However, we have yet to eliminate PVC completely. Some of our foods use PVC in packaging for safety or hygiene reasons, for example as a sealant in metal food lids. For such uses, commercially viable technical solutions do not yet exist. We are seeking out new materials that provide the same functional properties as PVC at a viable cost.

Demand for such alternative materials is currently small, so we have been at the forefront of catalyzing innovation in the marketplace. Once these new options become available, many industries will benefit from them.

Since we launched the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we have made several acquisitions which have brought more PVC into our business. PVC from these acquisitions is not included in our 99% above. We are taking action to eliminate it.

Reduce office waste

  • In our top 21 countries, at least 90% of our office waste will be reused, recycled or recovered by 2015 and we will send zero waste to landfill by 2017.
  • By 2015 we will reduce paper consumption by 30% per head in our top 21 countries.
  • We will eliminate paper in our invoicing, goods receipt, purchase order processes, financial reporting and employee expense processing by 2015, where legally allowable and technically possible.
  • 88% of our office waste was reused, recycled or recovered by end 2012.
  • By end 2012, we reduced paper consumption by 24% per head in our top 21 countries.
  • 14% of our incoming invoices were processed electronically in 2012, up from 10% in 2011.
  • We continue to cut paper use by encouraging employees to print less, reducing the number of printers, automating our office processes, and setting duplex printing as the default.
  • An example of automation is electronic invoicing. At the end of 2012, over 50% of invoices were submitted electronically in the US. We will continue with signing up vendors, with a target for 70% in 2013.
  • In 2013, we aim to send zero non-hazardous waste-to-landfill in our Englewood Cliffs, NJ headquarters and our Trumbull, Connecticut Research and Development center.

more on reducing office waste

Our Perspective

We have made good progress in reusing, recycling and recovering our office waste. In 2012, employee engagement campaigns and recycling stations helped us to improve waste awareness, reduce paper use and divert waste from landfill. This, combined with agreements with waste management contractors, has enabled us to achieve zero waste to landfill at 45% of target sites in our top 21 countries.

In 2012 we launched a global print standard. Double-sided printing rose to 37% from 28% in 2010 in our top 21 countries.

"Over half our factories achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill in 2012."

Future challenges

While we are making good progress in reducing packaging, we cannot achieve our target to halve our waste unless recycling rates increase significantly.

We are involved in several interventions associated with recycling and recovery, such as the Metal Matters campaign in the UK. However this is an area where we have little control over the value chain and are reliant on working with others.

That is why we reviewed our internal position on packaging recycling and extended producer responsibility. We are working with our major markets to increase our capacity to engage with governments and other stakeholders to find the best policy solutions to drive up recycling rates, which may vary from country to country.

Although this is clearly a challenge, it is also an opportunity to inspire end-to-end solutions through collaboration on non-competitive priorities, not only within the supply chain, but also with our customers and our peer companies.