Unilever backs sustainability promise with new biomass boiler

Deputy Minister Barbara Thompson, MEC Sihle Zikalala, Unilever executive VP Luc-Olivier Marquet and its sourcing unit director, Phahle Phalane at the unveiling of the environmentally friendly biomass boiler at Unilever Maydon Wharf, DurbanSouth Africa’s largest fast moving consumer goods manufacturer, Unilever unveiled a R50 million biomass boiler installation at its historic Maydon Wharf Factory in Durban on 5 June.

Hosted on the same day as World Environment Day, the unveiling event was attended by Deputy Minister of Environmental Affairs, Barbara Thomson; the KZN MEC for Economic Development, Tourism & Environmental Affairs, Sihle Zikalala; and Unilever South Africa’s executive vice president, Luc-Olivier Marquet. He explained the biomass boiler will reduce CO₂ emissions, waste to landfill and ultimately the amount of electricity used in production at Maydon Wharf.

Greener packaging commitments

Marquet also signed the company’s global commitment to ensuring all of its plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. ‘This undertaking has been made because of growing concerns about plastic pollution – and because it is the right thing to do. In 2017, we made an industry leading commitment to ensure all our plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025. We will also increase the recycled plastic content in our packaging to 25 percent by 2025.

Reduced environmental impact

‘Our new biomass boiler at Maydon Wharf is illustrative of the seriousness of our commitment to sustainable living. We have previously unveiled our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), which commits to reducing our environmental impact by half by 2020. This can only be achieved by putting sustainability at the core of our strategy. An important part of achieving these goals is to manage our electricity and water use, and to ensure that no non-hazardous waste goes to landfill. The biomass boiler is our latest step on this journey,’ adds Marquet.

The boiler is fuelled by wooden pallets, waste wood and off-cuts from local furniture and door manufacturers. Wooden pallets used as part of ‘business as usual’ by Unilever are reused, and do not form parts of the biomass feed. The boiler will consume on average 940t biomass per month – roughly the weight of 375 medium size African elephants.

‘By introducing this fossil fuel-free machinery into our factory, we are taking a step towards reducing the amount of wooden waste traditionally sent to landfill sites. The boiler cost R50 million to install, and we estimate that it will provide a saving of around R17 million per year. This figure factors in fuel savings and will reduce the facility’s carbon footprint. The boiler will lead to a reduction of over 30 percent in CO₂ emissions and is projected to save 14 000t of CO₂ every year,’ Marquet adds.

More in the pipeline

If sustainability is integrated into the very core of Unilever’s business, it’s far more likely it will make the company’s plans to make changes a success. ‘We don’t view it as a “nice to have”, but rather as essential to our social impact as a purpose-led business,’ he comments.

The success of the biomass boiler will not be the end of Unilever’s environmental efforts at Maydon Wharf. The company is actively looking at how to reuse condensate, heat, water waste and flash steam within its factories, as well as new soap-making technologies that use less energy in production. The company is also examining the feasibility of a new drier vacuum and solar power.



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