As a lightweight and cost effective packaging material, plastic is essential for ensuring product availability to consumers, especially for consumers in rapidly developing economies like Bangladesh. However, plastic should be kept in a loop to ensure a sustainable future for all. As a highly recyclable material, plastic is not the problem, plastic waste management is the main challenge. We cannot address the problem of plastic pollution on our own. That is why we are pushing for systemic change to establish a circular economy for plastic.
- 50% virgin plastic reduction by 2025
- 25% recycled plastic by 2025
- Collect and process more plastic than we sell by 2025
- 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025
- Maintain zero waste to landfill in our factories
Rethinking Plastic Packaging
We recognise the devastating effects of plastic pollution on our planet and its inhabitants. It is important that we come together as a global community to address this issue with urgency and find sustainable solutions for a better future.
We are reducing plastic waste by using less plastic, better plastic or no plastic at all – and calling for a fast transition to a circular economy.
Guided by the following framework, we are making progress towards our ambitious plastics goals:
Less plastic: Cutting down how much plastic we use in the first place through lighter designs, reuse and refill formats, and concentrated products which use less packaging.
Better plastic: Making sure the plastic we use is designed to be recycled and that our products use recycled plastic.
No plastic: Using refill stations and formats to cut out new plastic completely and switching to alternative packaging materials such as paper, glass or aluminium.
We aim to empower every actor throughout the value chain, from collecting plastic waste to segregating and recycling it. By viewing waste as a useful resource, we want to transform the way we use plastic. At UBL, we believe in creating a waste-free world and our business strategy, the Unilever Compass, reflects this by prioritising the health of our planet as a core pillar. Our waste management practices are centred around the 3Rs–Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
Plastic Waste-Free Bangladesh- Our Actions
We recognise the importance of taking action towards a waste-free future. That is why we are leading the change and taking 3 progressive measures in Bangladesh.
Tackling Manufacturing Waste through Sustainable Manufacturing
As one of the pioneers of sustainable manufacturing in Bangladesh, we are one of the pioneering companies to ensure Zero Landfill from our factories. We have been operating a zero-landfill waste scheme since 2014. All the waste produced in our factories is rerouted to be reused, recycled or co-processed. We are proud to be among the organisations in Bangladesh that sends its industrial waste, including Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) sludges to a co-processing facility to ensure zero landfill. We also are converting our plastic waste into reusable plastic material and ensuring no plastic is ending at the environment from our production facilities.
We are constantly investing behind new technologies in our production facilities to achieve zero-liquid discharge and organic waste recycling as well.
Since 2014, we have saved around 73,190 Tonnes of CO2 from our operation.
Since 2018, we have recovered 1731 tonnes of energy from plastic waste.
Rethinking Plastic Packaging through Design Innovation
Investing in research and utilising consumer insight and technology, we are constantly redesigning our product packaging to ensure plastic reduction. Our design innovations in Bangladesh have saved 1174 tonnes of plastic since 2018, which is around 12.8% of our total plastic use. Our new Vim 1 litre bottle contains 33% less plastic, new Lifebuoy hand wash bottle uses 18% less plastic, and we have eliminated the majority of the foil from the interior of our Glow & Lovely creams.
To drive consumer-level behaviour change, we have also introduced refill stations at modern trade and hypermarkets. We are now piloting cost-effective and convenient refill technology such as mobile refill machines designed for urban groceries for people at the bottom of the pyramid.
Building a Circular Plastic Economy through Value Chain Intervention
As a lightweight and cost-effective material, plastic is very difficult to replace. The main challenge of the plastic loop is the collection of waste plastic for recycling. Collection of flexible packaging waste is even more difficult as it has less recycling value compared to rigid plastic waste.
We’re proactively working to improve the plastic waste management system in Bangladesh, including infrastructure and capability development, new business models, and creating a circular economy for plastic waste. We need to work together as a global community to design systems and interventions that are smart and scalable to keep plastic in a loop so that the use of plastic is not harmful for the environment.
Our approach consists of 3 steps:
Assess: Working with the stakeholders and collaborators, we assess the situation first through in-depth study and stakeholder mapping to pinpoint the bottlenecks within the system and identify critical elements that need addressing.
Collaborate: We collaborate with the existing value chain actors to activate the full potential of the existing infrastructure and systems through awareness generation, capability development through training and livelihood improvement of the waste workers.
Intervene: We have designed our interventions to provide practical, smart, adaptive, scalable and inclusive solutions to achieve the long-term goal of reaching plastic circularity. We also ensure total transparency of the interventions with proper monitoring and validation using data.
Plastic Pollution-Free Cities for a Sustainable Future
As one of the fastest growing economies of the world with a growing consumer base, plastic is essential as a lightweight and cost-effective packaging material to ensure affordability and availability of high quality consumer goods, especially for people with limited affordability. But, it should be kept in a loop to ensure a sustainable future.
However, the plastic waste value chain in Bangladesh is informal and there is no uniform collection mechanism. Even large cities in Bangladesh do not have any uniform plastic or waste collection mechanism. Despite that, around 40% of plastic collected in Bangladesh is recycled and facilitating recycling is the smartest way to keep plastic in a loop–and keeping plastic in a loop is the priority of our plastic waste management initiative.
As pioneers of taking bold action, we started to work with municipalities to help them manage their plastic waste better. We initiated the largest municipal-backed plastic waste management initiative in Bangladesh to strengthen the plastic waste value chain.
We understand that plastic waste pollution is a problem too big for us to solve alone and along with advocacy, we need to work on-ground to start systemic changes to create a circular economy for plastics. We needed to experiment, especially with plastic waste collection and learn from on-ground executions. We started with a pilot at Narayanganj and later expanded at Dhaka and Chattogram.
In 2021, we launched plastic collection initiatives in Narayanganj in partnership with UNDP and Narayanganj City Corporation (NCC) where we piloted four different collection models. Subsequently, we partnered with two startups to explore waste management solutions in Dhaka South and North City Corporations.
We piloted a project with NCC and the community to build a foundation for systematic plastic waste collection from the source that allowed us to understand local value chain dynamics, behaviour patterns and multi-stakeholder approach over 24 months. We had to assess on-ground reality first as we wanted to utilise the existing waste collection and recycling system.
Plastic waste collection, especially lightweight and flexible plastic collection is difficult due its low value and thus it is unattractive for the waste workers to collect it. We worked with the existing value chain actors including the waste workers, local waste collectors, and waste traders through training and livelihood support to facilitate lightweight and flexible plastic collection and recycling. Throughout the pilot we collected 3000+ tonnes of flexible packaging, reached 600,000+ people with behaviour change communications and improved the livelihood of 2,000+ waste workers.
Based on our learning, we scaled up the initiative at Chattogram. We collaborated with Young Power in Social Action (YPSA) , one of the largest NGOs in Chattogram working for more than 3 decades in improving the socio-economic conditions of people in the country . After detailed resource mapping and assessment of the stakeholders, we collaborated with Chattogram City Corporation (CCC) and invested to enhance the capability and livelihood of the waste workers through training and capacity development.
Our intervention added value at each stage from household awareness creation regarding waste segregation followed by ensuring more income for the waste workers by selling collected waste to traders and making more waste available for recyclers by providing them incentives in a smart and hassle-free manner.We also facilitated activation of the Ward Waste Management Committees headed by the Ward Councillors to drive community level participation and engagement.
Following the collaboration, we intervened in the waste value chain by providing subsidies to the waste traders and recycling companies to process more flexible plastic. The activity resulted in collection and processing of 4000 tonnes of plastic waste in 2022, which was 40% of the overall annual plastic footprint of UBL.
Taking a Stand
As a manufacturer of consumer goods, we are aware of the effects of the current "take-make-dispose" model, in which goods are produced, purchased, temporarily used, and then discarded. We must switch from this linear perspective to one that emphasises resource reuse and closed-loop systems. We have to act quickly as well. We are engaging with others to develop coordinated action points while leveraging our voice and experience to urge for a swift transition to a circular economy.