Working towards zero waste with Unilever

The thought of thousands of tubs of ice cream arriving at your doorstep might seem like a dream come true but for the Cleanaway Liquids and Industrial Services teams based at Glendenning in western Sydney it was a major operational challenge. In May 2016, as a precautionary measure Unilever voluntarily recalled two Blue Ribbon ice cream SKUs. Within a few weeks of being approached by Unilever, Cleanaway had secured the contract to undertake the recycling of over 2.1 million tubs of ice cream that arrived in 150 semi-trailers over a two-month period.

 

Not only were the ice cream and plastic containers to be recycled, the whole process had to comply with Unilever’s global commitment to send zero non-hazardous waste to landfill – which requires what is previously sent to landfill be reused, recycled or recovered.

 

In this instance, all returned ice cream, plastic containers and cardboard packaging had to be separated and completely recycled. The Cleanaway team presented a range of options to achieve this. Solutions included processing the ice cream for use in pig farms and for injection into soil on farms through to recycling the plastic into granulated pellets for re-use and the grading and re-use of cardboard – all parts of each process monitored, tracked via GPS, scanned, cross-checked and reported on.

 

Daniel Saliba, Area Manager for Cleanaway, oversaw the whole contract and to this day will always have a soft spot for ice cream. Daniel recalls the scale of the project and the specific challenges it created.

 

“We had to scale up in an incredibly short space of time. This meant we had to hire additional staff and run our operation 24/7 for over two months to process the huge quantity involved. Over this time more than 130 refrigerated semi-trailers delivered about 3,000 pallets with each pallet holding 700 ice cream containers.”

 

“We had to melt the ice cream before we could separate it from the plastic, which required unloading the containers from the pallets by hand and separating the tubs, otherwise the ice cream tubs on the inside of each pallet would not melt. The challenge of melting the ice cream at the right time to support the processing requirement, without letting the melted product curdle was no mean feat.”  

 

“All the logistics and processing were done under the strictest security and checking procedure to ensure that Unilever had 100% confidence that all recalled tubs were destroyed. In fact, a number of the Unilever stakeholders visited us throughout various stages of the processing.”