Hindustan Unilever to be plastic waste-neutral this year even as it parent company reaps from sustainability efforts

INDIA – Hindustan Unilever(HUL), the Indian subsidiary of the British multinational CPG company Unilever, has said that it will achieve 100% plastic waste collection this year.

To achieve this, the fast moving consumer goods giant says it will collect and process 100,000 tonnes of plastic- more plastic packaging waste than what it uses.

Last year, HUL had collected and facilitated environmentally safe disposal of almost 60,000 tonnes of plastic waste.

The company is now scaling up its efforts by committing to collect 40,000 additional tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste.

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“We have now scaled up our joint efforts to collect more plastic packaging waste than our total plastics footprint, four years ahead of what we previously thought was possible,” says HUL ED (supply chain) Willem Uijen.

Through this initiative, Hindustand Unilever will be joining other major CPG brands such as Nestle India which have already plastic neutrality.

Growing concern for plastic pollution

There has been growing concern around plastic pollution and its adverse impact on the environment.

Repeated warnings issued by scientists on the negative impact of plastic waste such as wrappers, discarded packaging material and sachets have triggered action from packaged consumer goods companies.

Apart from Nestle and Unilever, maker of Ayurvedic medicine and natural consumer products, Dabur also has a plan to become plastic waste-neutral by March 2022.

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Dabur India CEO Mohit Malhotra said the company will be collecting, processing and recycling 22,000MT of post-consumer plastic waste from across the country.

Unilever turns sustainability into opportunity

Meanwhile at the global level, the consumer packaged goods giant is reaping big from its sustainability efforts.

One such effort was an attempt by the company to save a lot of ice cream that was wasted during manufacturing line change over.

The resulting product, with a name that translates to “Chocolate Hero,” was an immediate best-seller and is one of the top five flavors of the German Cremissimo ice cream brand.

Since its launch last year, Unilever has sold more than 1.2 million tubs of it, repurposing 160 metric tons (more than 352,739 pounds) of ice cream waste annually.

In another sustainability venture, Unilever uses upcycling to produce its popular British Marmite spread.

Ever since its beginnings nearly 120 years ago, Marmite has been made from discarded yeast from breweries, making it an original upcycler.

Today, the factories that make the spread have doubled down on reuse, taking manufacturing waste to an anaerobic digester, which produces biogas to power a boiler that helps run the plant on steam energy.

Half of the energy needed to run the plant comes from wasted Marmite, saving on energy and related costs.

Unilever has other ways to minimize waste, including by maximizing its production efficiencies.

It has invested in predictive analytics to reduce the amount of unused products that never make it to consumers.

Tackling food waste

According to the United Nations, a third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted and people in the U.S. throw out about 40% of all food they buy each year, which adds up to about US$400 per person.

“As a business, we don’t like food waste either,” said a Unilever executive.

“That costs money if we make stuff and we don’t sell it. So it really can be a win-win-win for people, for planet and for business if we attack and address and solve these issues.”

To tackle food waste, Unilever’s Hellmann’s brand kicked off a marketing campaign that asks consumers to “make taste, not waste” in a Super Bowl ad.

Following the Big Game commercial, the campaign features recipes and other content encouraging consumers to think before they throw away food.

Unilever says the campaign was born out of research that found many consumers would open full refrigerators and say they had nothing to eat.

While Unilever may want to end all food waste, it only has direct control over what happens in its own factories and hopes to influence consumer behaviour through awareness campaigns.

And while some waste is inevitable, the company has been looking at ways to reduce it as much as possible and from the above example it is making progress and reaping big in the process.

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