Half of Unilever's factories sent no waste to landfill in 2012, the company has announced.
Unilever, which manages over 250 factories around the world, set them the goal in its Sustainable Living Plan the previous year. Tony Dunnage, Unilever's eco-efficiency manager said: "This is a great example of how we are putting our sustainability strategy into action, by decoupling the growth of our business from its environmental impact."
He said that making their factories more environmentally responsible releases money to invest in the business. "Having over 130 sites not sending waste to landfill equates to a cost saving of almost €70m, all achieved without the need for capital expenditure."
The global target was reached at the same time as the company posted annual sales of €51bn, an increase of €11bn since Unilever set itself an aim of doubling the size of its business whilst reducing its environmental impact and increasing its positive social impact.
Unilever has already reached the milestone of 100% of sites sending zero waste to landfill in 18 countries. This, it says, is equivalent to removing more than one million household bins of waste every year.
It announced in 2011 that it had achieved a target of zero waste to landfill in the UK. In this case, the achievement was accomplished using an agreement with its waste supplier Veolia to ensure that over 97% of its waste is recycled, with the remaining 3% being incinerated for energy recovery.
The main factor in the achievement, rather than recycling, is the elimination of waste in the first place. Any waste then generated is reused, recycled or recovered.
The company feels that its success warrants bringing forward by five years a commitment to send the same amount of waste for disposal in 2020 as it did in 2008, despite producing significantly more.
Unilever is copying best practices from all over the world, actively engaging its supply chain network, to create more environmentally responsible factories.
Its strategies include a ‘design once and deploy everywhere’ approach, under which every new factory will produce 50% less waste than five years previously and will send no non-hazardous waste to landfill by design.
Sometimes, this is not possible. For example, in Russia Unilever collects a few tonnes of perforated outer-tea bags annually and this is sold in pet shops as animal bedding, used for wallpaper, etc., and in Hefei. China, Unilever reduced plastic wrapping on boxes on pallets by replacing it with reusable elastic fabrics.
Story: David Thorpe, News Editor