United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Waste-Free World

    Description
    Intro

    As we all know, the plastic problem has become an important factor affecting the environment. With the wide attention of the international community, plastic pollution has been actively dealt with all over the world. Unilever believes that plastic has its uses, but it should not have a negative impact on the environment. Only rapid action and thorough action in all aspects of the plastic cycle can eliminate plastic waste. Unilever's purpose is to make sustainable living common place. Since launched Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2010, it has made significant progress in the environmental, social and economic fields. Unilever has benefited 1.3 billion people around the world through health and hygiene projects; halved greenhouse gas emissions generated in the production process; achieve 100% renewable power; and helped 1.8 million small-scale retailers around the world take action to increase income. Unilever have set a goal to halve its use of virgin plastic, cut plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerate our use of recycled plastic by 2025. Being part of that drive, in 2020, Unilever and the Alibaba Group have created an Al-enabled recycling system that automatically identifies and sorts plastic packaging. Its aim is to speed high-grade plastic back into the circular economy and move China’s companies and consumers towards a waste-free world.

    Description

    As a consumer goods company, Unilever is aware of the causes and consequences of the ‘take-make-dispose’ model of consumption. And we want to change it. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is anchored on the need to decouple our business growth from our environmental impact – including how our products are made and used. An essential part of this is using resources more efficiently during the making of our products – and we have set ourselves targets to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, water use and waste associated with manufacturing. Since 2008, we have cut CO2 from energy by 47%, water abstraction by 39% and total waste disposed by 98% per tonne of production. (Respond to SDG 13) While our efforts to use resources more efficiently in production are important, our biggest impacts come through the use of our products. That’s why we have committed to ensure 100% of our plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, leading the way towards a more circular plastics economy. (Respond to SDG 12, SDG14)

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is driving change within our business. Many of the goals of the USLP are closely related to the SDGs – and so action on the USLP contributes to the SDGs. We have mapped SDGs to the USLP – with 14 having a strong and direct link given the breadth of our portfolio and activities. Unilever's work on waste & packaging supports 4 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. (SDG 12, SDG13, SDG 14, SDG17) Waste-Free World – is part of Unilever’s drive to tackle the root cause of plastic waste and think differently about packaging. As a company we have set a goal to halve our use of virgin plastic, cut plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes and accelerate our use of recycled plastic by 2025.

    Implementation methodologies

    The launch of Waste-Free World saw 20 recycling machines installed as part of a pilot programme in offices and community spaces in two of China’s largest cities, Shanghai and Hangzhou. Each machine is equipped with state-of-the-art AI technology which automatically identifies different kinds of plastic bottle. All that customers need to do is to use Alipay – Alibaba’s e-wallet service – to scan the QR code displayed on the screen of the machine and then deposit the bottle into the recycling bin. It’s as simple as that – the machine does all hard work. Using AI technology, it automatically identifies the plastic the bottle is made of, sorts it and stores it, so that it can be collected and returned to recycling centres and fast-tracked for reuse rather than degraded.

    Results

    Waste-Free World’s AI-enabled recycling equipment, logistics and plastic processing make it possible to create a circular economy for plastic waste. Its ability to pre-sort plastic packaging into its various grades enhances the quality of recycled plastic bottles and means the reuse of plastic materials will be more effective. And that is positive news for Unilever as it drives forward with its commitment to reduce the absolute use of plastic in its products.

    Factors and Constraints

    Waste-Free World uses state-of-the-art AI technology which automatically identifies different kinds of plastic bottle. All that customers need to do is to use Alipay – Alibaba’s e-wallet service – to scan the QR code displayed on the screen of the machine and then deposit the bottle into the recycling bin. AI-enabled recycling equipment, logistics and plastic processing make it possible to create a circular economy for plastic waste. Its ability to pre-sort plastic packaging into its various grades enhances the quality of recycled plastic bottles and means the reuse of plastic materials will be more effective.

    Sustainability and replicability

    We are partnering with communities to place more recycling equipment. Waste-Free World project is an open platform to attract more organizations to join to form scale effect.

    COVID-19 Impact

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    Contact Name
    Helen
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    Organization/entity
    Unilever China
    SDGs
    Geographical coverage

    China

    Timeline
    06 November 2020 (start date)
    05 November 2025 (date of completion)
    More information
    Countries
    China
    China
    Partnership
    N/A
    Contact Information

    Helen, Senior Corporate Communications Manager