Unilever this week announced it has achieved its goal of sending zero waste to landfill across its European operations, taking it a major step closer to reaching its global target.
The achievement means no Unilever owned or operated premises, logistics operations or distribution centre is sending waste to landfill. However, the goal has yet to be achieved in its supply chain.
BusinessGreen spoke to Pier Luigi Sigismondi, Unilever’s chief supply chain officer, to find out more.
BG: What are the environmental and economic benefits of achieving zero landfill?
PLS: With climate change talks due to take place in Paris at the end of this year we need a step change in companies committing to environmental action. There are many reasons why achieving zero waste to landfill makes sense from an environmental and economic perspective.
Every year an estimated 1.3 billion tonnes of solid waste is collected worldwide and this is expected to increase to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025, with most of the increase coming from developing countries. Decay of solid waste contributes about five per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and there are also up to 13 million tonnes of plastic ending up in our oceans every year. Not only is this unsustainable from an environmental point of view, it also has a negative impact on the communities that live near to open landfills.
We have also seen first-hand that zero waste to landfill makes sound business sense. Eliminating waste to landfill in over 240 factories worldwide resulted in avoiding more than €200m in costs and at the same time created hundreds of jobs. Everyone involved was focused on either avoiding waste in the first place or realising the value of the waste that was left as a resource. Thinking about waste as something of value drives very different actions and outcomes.
BG: What measures did you implement to achieve this goal?
PLS: Our primary focus was to reduce waste at source. We then aimed to reuse as much as possible and recycle what we could.
Reaching the factory landmark was the result of a huge mind-set shift throughout our organisation. The new zero waste company achievement in Europe is an important milestone because it proves that the model and mind-set that drove our factory achievements is repeatable outside of a manufacturing environment.
BG: Can you talk a bit about the different challenges in achieving this goal across different countries?
PLS: As we progressed towards our zero waste factory goal we had to be creative to find solutions in countries where waste provision was limited. For example, in Cote d’Ivoire waste has been turned into low cost building materials. In Indonesia, sludge waste from manufacturing goes into another company’s cement material, which contributes to C02 reduction.
Becoming a zero landfill company in Europe came with its own set of challenges. Although there is a well-developed waste industry in Europe, in some countries there were contractual challenges at premises not managed by Unilever. This required collaboration and negotiation to resolve.
BG: What would you like to see from the EU’s Circular Economy package to make it easier for companies to avoid sending waste to landfill?
PLS: Many companies have already responded to the fluctuations in raw material prices by integrating circular economic thinking into their supply chains. But we need a policy framework that will scale up these company initiatives. Basically we would like to see the EU create an internal market for resources from waste.
The upcoming circular economy package could bring this to life by setting achievable but ambitious recycling targets for the EU Member States, introducing a harmonised calculation methodology.
In addition, the Extended Producer Responsibility principle will help member states to meet future recycling targets. We support the added definition of minimum operating requirements and the allocation of clear roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in the collection, sorting and recycling of waste. We would also support the exploration of public policies and incentives to improve the market uptake of sustainably sourced and recycled raw materials.
BG: What advice would you give to your peers who are looking to achieve the same goal?
PLS: First, keep reminding yourself why it’s more important than ever to tackle waste.The global challenge of a growing population relying on limited resources is very real. We must do everything we can to prevent waste if we are to become resource resilient and tackle climate change.
Second, believe that anything is possible if you focus efforts and work with partners who share your ambitions.
It’s essential to build networks of motivated and determined employees who understand the vision and the benefits. Our achievements on zero waste are a fantastic example of what happens when you motivate and engage people around a common purpose and goal. We want to achieve more by building a network of partners working together to share the benefits of sustainability.
How are you planning to go further to achieve zero waste at multi-use distribution sites?
PLS: Our zero waste to landfill goal is essential to Unilever’s sustainable growth ambitions and we aspire to see an industry-wide movement here. In June this year we partnered with peer companies, experts and key stakeholders to help us identify how we can eliminate waste on an unprecedented scale across the globe.
We know that we cannot achieve a transformation in this area on our own. We believe that if we lead by example, share our knowledge and best practices and prove the business case for zero waste, we can encourage other businesses – including organisations that manage some of the sites that we use – to join us on this mission.
Source: Recycling BG