Waste & packaging

Innovation is the key

We are continually innovating to find more ways of reducing our packaging, and collaborate with others to develop new packaging technologies.

Compressed deoderant cans

Sustainable by design: our innovation approach

It can take significant investment to reduce the amount of material in a pack, even by just one gram. However, the return on investment is worth it when our innovations successfully reduce the packaging and waste impact in our value chain, and result in material cost savings and increased sales.

We focus on using lighter, stronger and better materials with a lower environmental impact. We aim to optimise materials each time we redesign our packaging, and develop concentrated or compressed versions of our products.

We continue to collaborate with suppliers, academics, start-ups and other organisations to develop new technologies. This ensures a constant flow of innovative solutions to help us achieve our targets.

We are reducing packaging through innovations that are not always visible to consumers

In 2016 we introduced chemical foaming additive closures for our AXE body wash bottles in the US, enabling lightweighting – that is, reducing the packaging weight - leading to material savings of 21.6 metric tonnes. This follows our implementation of injection compression technology at the end of 2015. This innovation has cut plastic use in some of our plastic food tubs in Europe by up to 7%, saving 12.5 tonnes of plastic in 2016 without impacting the quality of the product packaging.

In 2014, we reduced the polyethylene coating on the inside walls of our Breyers ice cream packaging in the US, which we estimate has saved over 130 metric tonnes of polyethylene every year.

We are also reducing waste through innovation in flexible packaging, such as sachets and pouches. We have combined the technology of a thinner polyethylene layer with a stronger polymer and smart polyethylene design. This produces a stiffer, stronger packaging with better sealing performance.

We use this, for example, in our RIN laundry powder pouches and the flow wrap around our VIM dishwash bars. This innovation has the potential to reduce polymer use in flexible packaging by approximately 5,000 metric tonnes. By the end of 2015, we had reduced our polymer use by around 850 metric tonnes, resulting in a cost saving of €3 million. Between 2013 and 2015, we launched this new technology in India, China and South Africa.

These innovations both reduce our environmental impact and are good for business as they reduce our packaging costs.

But sometimes our packaging innovations are more visible

At the end of 2016, we relaunched our Ponds Age Miracle cream in the Philippines and Indonesia, with a redesigned jar and cap. We estimate that the redesigned packaging will save a combined total of around 59 tonnes of glass, plastic and paper in these two markets each year.

Towards the end of 2015, we replaced our one litre Omo dilute rigid bottle with a flexible film doypack in Brazil, reducing the volume of plastic used by 73%. This is saving around 1,570 tonnes of plastic each year and also means we can fit more 30% products on a pallet, so also helps to cut our GHG transport emissions. This initiative has resulted in annual cost savings of around €2m.

In 2015, we relaunched Sunsilk in Brazil with lighter shampoo and conditioner recyclable bottles. Through designing lighter caps, reducing the number of cap designs from ten to four, and reducing the variety of bottle sizes manufactured from 44 to 22. We are rolling out this innovation to other regions. By the end of 2016 we had saved almost 5,000 metric tonnes of plastic.

Open access – reducing plastic in packaging

In 2014, we collaborated with two of our global packaging suppliers, MuCell and Alpla, to create MuCell™ Technology. By creating a foamed plastic layer in the middle of the bottle walls, the technology reduces plastic use by up to 15% per bottle.

In 2014, we began using this innovation in our Dove Body Wash bottles. By the end of 2016, this innovation had saved around 433 tonnes of plastic since its launch in 2014.

We are rolling out MuCell™ Technology to other bottle designs and estimate that that this will bring significant reductions in the amount of plastics we use once applied to other products.

In January 2015, we waived our exclusivity rights so that other manufacturers can use our technology. We know that even through our best efforts, there is only so much that Unilever can achieve alone. By opening up access, we can significantly reduce the amount of plastic used in product packaging and we hope that many more manufacturers will take up this innovative technology.

Encouraging behaviour change with refill innovations

We have been selling refills since 2012, reducing the volume of plastic used in our product packaging. Refills have the added benefit of being more affordable for consumers.

In China for example, we encourage consumers to keep their rigid bottles of Lux, Omo and Comfort, and refill them. In Italy, we launched a two litre pouch as a refill for our one litre Svelto hand dishwash range. The pouch has an easy-to-open spout which helps in refilling the bottle and can be re-sealed.

In 2016, we launched liquid stain removal refills into DIG (dirt is good) laundry brand in Brazil (OMO) and Chile (OMO), Argentina (Ala), Colombia (Fab). In 2016, we also launched Dove body wash refills in Japan.

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