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The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan for

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Waste & Packaging

We purchase over 2 million tonnes of packaging a year.

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Increasing resource scarcity means it is more urgent than ever to be efficient with packaging and find solutions to deal with ‘post-consumer’ waste. We continually look at new ways to reduce, re-use, recycle and recover packaging and waste as we move towards becoming a zero waste business. The business case is clear.

Reducing waste creates efficiencies and lowers costs. Re-using materials extends their life, helping to use less of the earth’s precious resources. Recycling allows us to repurpose valuable materials that would otherwise have been wasted. The more we reduce, re-use, recycle and recover our packaging, the greater the cost savings in materials, energy, transport and disposal. The more we can design in a circular way, the more value we can create for our company and for others.

Targets & performance

We have an ambitious commitment to halve the waste associated with the disposal of our products.


Our Commitment

Halve the waste associated with the disposal of our products by 2020.1


In 2015, our waste impact has reduced by 29% since 2010.


We are more than halfway towards meeting our 2020 commitment to reduce the waste associated with the disposal of our products. Our total footprint per consumer use has reduced by 29% since 2010.

We have achieved this reduction through a combination of divestments, increased recycling rates and our innovation projects. We continue to pilot and deploy new technologies and cutting-edge techniques to produce more lightweight packaging. For example, commercialising MuCellTM moulding technology has allowed us to reduce the plastic component in bottles by up to 15% versus the previous bottle. 

Infrastructure improvements in recycling and recovery have also contributed to our performance. We partner with others, including through industry collaboration initiatives, to stimulate recycling and recovery infrastructure, particularly for materials which are more complex to recycle, such as sachets in developing countries. A good example of stimulating recycling and recovery infrastructure is our Community Waste Bank Programme in Indonesia, where there is little infrastructure for the recovery of domestic packaging materials. In 2015 we further developed this programme and over 3,500 tonnes of domestic packaging waste was collected by local communities.

We are making strong progress against our commitment in areas where we have direct control such as in the design of our products and in reducing waste in our own operations.

In 2015 we reviewed our packaging waste strategy, assessed our achievements so far and identified areas where we could push ourselves even further to achieve our aim of halving the waste associated with the disposal of our products.

As a result of our refreshed strategy, we have committed to including more recycled plastic in our packaging. The reusing packaging target will no longer be included in our Plan because we will report progress as part of our halving goal rather than separately.2

Beyond our own direct control, we are finding the challenge for post-consumer waste is in encouraging consumers to recycle, and having the right infrastructure in place to ensure materials are recovered and re-used.

1 Our environmental targets are expressed against a baseline of 2010 , as recalculated in December 2015, and on a 'per consumer use' basis. This means a single use, portion or serving of a product.

2 Reducing GHG while washing and showering; concentration and compaction of products; and lower temperature laundry/correct dosage of detergent.

  • Achieved: 3
  • On-plan: 6
  • Off-plan: 0
  • %% of target achieved: 3

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance (EN) for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.


  • 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.
  • All newly built factories will aim to generate less than half the waste of those in our 2008 baseline.

We achieved our target in 2012 with 76,000 fewer tonnes of total waste than in 2008, a 51% reduction per tonne of production.

In 2015 we disposed of 146,000 fewer tonnes of total waste than in 2008, a 97% reduction per tonne of production.

Compared to 1995, this represents a 99% reduction in absolute terms.

We achieved zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across our global factory network by end 2014. In 2015, we sent 0.14% of our 2008 baseline of non-hazardous waste to landfill from eight of our sites. This was rectified as soon as possible during the year.*

New factories in China, South Africa, the US, and Indonesia started production in 2015. When fully operational, each aims to generate less than half the waste of those factories in a representative 2008 baseline.


We achieved our target on reducing waste from manufacturing sites in 2012, eight years early. Therefore in 2012 we introduced a new target – to send zero non-hazardous waste to landfill (ZWL) from manufacturing sites by 2015. 

By the end of 2014 our global factory network of over 240 factories across 67 countries achieved our target of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill. We believe this is a first for a company of our scale in our industry. Following the achievement of this target a year early, in 2015 our focus was on maintaining zero non-hazardous waste to landfill.

However in 2015, eight sites disposed of a small amount of non-hazardous waste to landfill. We take any lapses very seriously and these were rectified as soon as possible during the year. We are confident our overall achievement is still industry leading and we have robust procedures in place to highlight any issues so that remedial action can be swiftly taken. 

By February 2016, through replicating this zero waste model in other parts of our business, nearly 400 additional non-manufacturing sites had also eliminated non-hazardous waste to landfill.

Independently assured by PwC

* We aim to maintain our achievement of zero non-hazardous waste to landfill (ZWL) across our manufacturing sites worldwide. However, incidents can occur where small amounts of non-hazardous waste are sent to landfill in error. We consider ZWL is maintained when less than 0.5% of non-hazardous waste is disposed to landfill in a 12 month period.


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

  • Lightweighting materials
  • Optimising structural and material design
  • Developing concentrated versions of our products
  • Eliminating unnecessary packaging

The weight per consumer use has decreased by 17% in 2015 compared to 2010.


Our results show that our efforts in previous years to reduce packaging through innovations, lightweighting and material switching are now becoming visible. The results are also impacted by the effect of acquisitions and disposals. 

Commercialising MuCellTMmoulding technology has allowed us to reduce the plastic component in bottles by up to 15% versus the previous bottle. We estimate that this will bring significant reductions in the amount of plastics we use once applied to other products.

Other examples of reduction initiatives include the conversion of Surf detergent products from carton board to flexible pouches for our 500g and 1kg range; the launch of our compressed aerosols, which resulted in a 25% reduction in aluminium used for our cans; and smart use of design strategy and technology which enabled us to reduce the polyethylene layer within many of our sachets.


  • 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 2025 we will increase the recycled plastic material content in our packaging to 25%. This will act as a catalyst to increase recycling rates.

(Target updated in 2016)

6% increase in recycling and recovery rates in 2015, over the 2010 average Recycling and Recovery Index (RRI), averaged across our top 14 countries.

Around 4,900 tonnes of post-consumer recycled materials incorporated into our rigid plastic packaging in 2015.


Recycling and recovery is the most challenging of our targets because it falls outside our direct control. We are therefore reliant on public policy, infrastructure and consumer engagement. To continually push this agenda, we focus on four areas: policy, infrastructure development, technology advancement and consumer behaviour change. 

Despite these difficulties, we have seen an improvement in our recycling rate. The volume of materials recycled or recovered increased by 6% over 2014-2015 compared to our 2010 baseline. 

We believe that our involvement in industry collaborations, and continued support in consumer education programmes, is contributing to maintaining momentum. For example, through our partnership with the Metal Matters programme, in collaboration with the British Aerosol Manufacturers’ Association, Alupro and others, we increased the number of local UK authorities collecting aerosols for recycling from 67% in 2012 to over 90% in 2015. In Indonesia, we further developed our Community Waste Bank Programme in 2015 through collaborating with local municipalities.


Our goal is to develop and implement a sustainable business model for handling our sachet waste streams by 2015.

66 We continue to investigate the potential of new technologies in both developed and developing markets. However progress has been slower than we originally anticipated.


Our aim is to develop a closed loop system for sachet waste. This will allow us to continue to provide the price and convenience of sachets to low-income consumers, while tackling the environmental issues associated with their use. These include litter and recyclability. 

In India, we have proved that pyrolysis technology can convert sachet waste into an industrial fuel. However, pyrolysis is still not an established technology and has several limitations, and so our progress has been slower than we anticipated. One limitation is the costs associated with the collection and processing of sachets versus the value obtained for the output product.

To counter this, since 2011, we have been piloting a new technology which we believe can help create a viable business case. In 2015, we completed large scale trials and have placed orders for equipment to build a pilot plant in Indonesia in order to prove the commercial viability of this technology. With this in place, we are around two thirds of the way towards achieving our target.


We will eliminate PVC (polyvinyl chloride) from all packaging by 2012 (where technical solutions exist).

99 99% of PVC packaging removed from our portfolio by end 2012.


We have made very good progress in eliminating PVC from our packaging, including from the acquisitions we have made in recent years. 

We have a robust system in place to ensure that any PVC entering the business through acquisitions is swiftly dealt with, and where there are no viable replacement options, such as the PVC used within the seals of metal lids, we are working with suppliers to develop appropriate technology to replace these materials. Replacement solutions can take many years to develop as they need to meet the functional requirements of manufacturing, filling and consumer use.


  • 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.

93% of our office waste was reused, recycled or recovered in 2015.

We achieved our target in 2013 with paper consumed per occupant 37% lower than 2010. In 2015 we reached a 55% reduction against our 2010 baseline.

73 73% of our in-scope Business and Finance Services processes were completed electronically.


By 2015 all in-scope sites in our top 21 countries had either achieved zero waste to landfill (ZWL) status or had plans in place to do so. We are on track to achieve our 2017 target. We have extended our waste reduction efforts beyond our top 21 countries and an additional 44 sites are now ZWL. During 2016, we are planning to accelerate plans to achieve ZWL status in other non-manufacturing sites. 

Paper consumption per occupant is now 55% lower than our 2010 baseline in our top 21 countries and we will continue to push consumption lower. 

Although we reached 73%, up from 69% in 2014, progress was slower than expected in eliminating paper in our Business and Finance systems. This was primarily due to some countries not allowing electronic invoicing and the reluctance of some suppliers to accept eInvoicing in lieu of paper invoices.


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