SUSTAINABILITY: Unilever Lipton Plant Makes Zero-Landfill Goal

Unilever’s Lipton Tea manufacturing plant in Suffolk, Va., the largest tea-processing facility in the United States, has reached its goal of becoming a “zero-landfill” facility. The plant sends no waste to landfills by processing all of its waste via aggressive recycling and composting programs, and converting some of it into usable energy.

“Lipton’s commitment to keeping waste out of landfills is a standard-setter in our community,” said Tom Kreidel, Southeastern Public Service Authority public relations coordinator. “It’s great for the environment and contributes to saving valuable space in our community’s landfills. By creating usable energy from waste that cannot be recycled, we have not only helped Lipton reach its zero-landfill goal, but have [also] helped process more than half of the region’s non-recyclable waste.”

The zero-landfill milestone at the Suffolk plant is one of several environmentally focused initiatives from Lipton. Earlier this year, the brand committed to source all of the tea for its tea bags from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms by 2015, and has run a sustainable tea cultivation estate in Kericho, Kenya, since 2007.

Such programs serve “to make the brand even ‘greener’ from leaf to cup,” noted Suffolk plant manager Ted Narozny. “Our efforts are an extension of the overall commitment we at Unilever have — ‘doing well by doing good.’ In addition to further reducing our environmental impact, we are also able to save in operating costs — another benefit of doing well by doing good.”

The Lipton Suffolk team began working to attain its zero-landfill goal over a year ago by joining forces with Sonoco, which offers recycling consulting services through its “Sonoco Sustainability Solutions” (S3) program; McGill Composting, to help convert bio waste into compost, some of which is reused in an environmentally acceptable way as soil, fertilizer and mulch on the Suffolk plant’s own grounds; and the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s waste-to-energy facility, to turn some waste into usable energy to provide steam for the U.S. Navy’s largest shipyard, in nearby Portsmouth, Va., as well as to create electricity to be sold through the electrical grid.

Those partnerships and other innovative waste management procedures now in place, among them eliminating plastic strapping on pallets, replacing non-recyclable cleaning wipes with reusable rags, and using sturdier, reusable plastic pallets instead of the usual wooden ones, mean that currently 70 percent of the plant’s waste is recycled or reused, 22 percent is composted, and the remaining 8 percent is converted into usable energy.

Thanks to such measures, the Suffolk plant is able to conserve 16 tons of plastic, which lowers greenhouse gas emissions by 13.76 tons; 21,182 mature trees, the equivalent of 262 million sheets of newspaper; 576,898 gallons of oil, enough to heat and cool 2,856 homes for a year; 29,904 gallons of gasoline, enough to drive over 837,000 miles in the average American car; 8,722,000 gallons of water, enough to meet the daily fresh water needs of 116,293 Americans; and 5,108,600 kilowatt hours of electricity, or a year’s supply of power for over 425 average homes.

Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based Unilever’s U.S. brand portfolio includes such household names as Axe, Ben & Jerry’s, Bertolli, Breyers, Caress, Country Crock, Degree, Dove personal care products, Hellmann’s, Klondike, Knorr, Lipton, Popsicle, Promise, Q-Tips, Skippy, Slim-Fast, Suave, Sunsilk and Vaseline.
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