Innovation is the key

We are finding more ways to reduce and reuse (refill) our packaging.

Our innovation approach: sustainable by design

We continually innovate to reduce the amount of resources used in our packaging, and 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.

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 worthwhile when our packaging and waste innovations are successful in reducing our environmental impact in our value chain, converting into material cost savings and increased sales.

We are continuing to collaborate with suppliers, academia, innovative start-ups and other organisations to develop new technologies. This ensures a continuum of innovative solutions to help achieve our objectives.

Reducing packaging through innovation

The new technologies that we adopt are not always visible to our consumers. For example, in 2014 we successfully reduced the polyethylene coating on the inside walls of our Breyers ice cream packaging in the US, without impacting packaging quality. We estimate that this weight reduction saves over 130 metric tonnes of polyethylene per year. Not only is this good for the environment but it is also good for business as it reduces our packaging costs.

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.

For example, we use this in our RIN laundry powder pouches and the flow wrap around our VIM dishwash bars. Through this innovation, we are looking at the potential of reducing polymer usage in flexible packaging by around 5,000 metric tonnes. By the end of 2015, we reduced our polymer usage by around 850 metric tonnes, resulting in a cost saving of around €3 million. Between 2013 and 2015, we launched this new technology in India, China and South Africa. In 2016 we plan to roll it out further across more products and countries.

However, sometimes our packaging innovations are more visible. For example, for our new Sunsilk shampoo and conditioner bottles, which we launched in Brazil in September 2015, we designed lighter caps, reduced the number of cap designs from ten to four, and reduced the variety of bottle sizes manufactured from 44 to 22.

As well as saving around 2,300 tonnes of plastic in Latin America every year through these innovations, we can now also fit more products on a pallet. We estimate that this will result in around 300 fewer trucks on the road per year. We plan to roll this innovation out globally in 2016, and anticipate saving around 5,000 tonnes of plastic each year.

Eliminating bottle packaging in pioneering Sunlight innovation

We launched our first-ever Sunlight dishwash liquid vending machine in Vietnam in August 2015. This allows consumers to fill their own bottle with dishwashing liquid, rather than having to purchase a new bottle each time. This innovative technology has enabled us to reduce plastic use and lower the price, making the product more affordable for consumers.

This approach requires changing consumer behaviour, which raises awareness of the importance of reusing packaging. So far, the results are looking promising for everybody: consumers, the environment and our business.

Tackling product waste with Hellmann’s Easy-Out

In 2015, we launched another innovative technology: Easy-Out. This followed feedback from our consumers that mayonnaise always got ‘stuck’ in our Hellmann’s bottles. Through working with some of our key suppliers, we developed a natural approach to help get more mayonnaise out. Our Easy-Out technology prevents mayonnaise from sticking to the sides but, crucially, doesn’t affect the flavour. This has reduced the average amount of leftover mayonnaise in a bottle from 13% to just 3%. This equates to around 5,000 tonnes of mayonnaise each year landing on the plate instead of landfill.

We have launched Hellmann’s Easy-Out in the UK, US, Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, the Nordics and Hungary. In the UK alone, consumer complaints related to leftover mayonnaise in the bottle have dropped by 77%, and sales have increased by over 14% in 2015. This has also resulted in an increased market share. We intend to further roll-out our Easy-Out technology to other European markets in 2016.

Opening up MuCell Technology to wider industry

We have collaborated with two of our global packaging suppliers, MuCell and Alpla, to create MuCell™ Technology. We use this pioneering innovation in our Dove Body Wash bottles. By creating a foamed plastic layer in the middle of the bottle walls, the technology reduces plastic use by up to 15% per bottle. By the end of 2015, this innovation had saved around 220 tonnes of plastic since its launch in 2014.

We are also 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.

Rolling-out compressed spray technology

In 2013, Unilever launched the biggest innovation in deodorants in over 40 years. Our scientists created a ‘compressed’ deodorant by re-engineering the aerosol packaging. The new system offers the same deodorant protection, but with 50% less gas and 25% less packaging, reducing the amount of aluminium and cutting the carbon footprint per can by approximately 25%. People can enjoy the same amount of protection and fragrance in the same spray as with a standard can, but in a product half the size.

We launched our compressed deodorants in the UK and Ireland in February 2013 for our Sure, Dove and Vaseline brands. In 2014, we rolled out compressed deodorants to other countries including Germany, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as expanding into male deodorants. In 2015, we launched in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay - some of the biggest aerosol markets in the world.

Over half of our UK aerosols sales are now from compressed formats. The simple act of using compressed deodorants has enabled consumers to collectively save over 1,500 tonnes of aluminium since they were launched.

Our vision is to inspire the entire aerosol deodorants market to move to compressed technology. If we are successful, and the three billion aerosol deodorants sold every year are compressed, we would save enough aluminium to make 10 million bicycles every year.

That is why in 2015 we invited other manufacturers to use our compressed technology in their own aerosols. We have shared information about how to create compressed deodorants, as well as details of the suppliers who helped to bring this to market. Through clearly labelling compressed deodorant bottles we can make it easier for consumers to make more sustainable choices.

Encouraging behaviour change with refill innovations

In 2012, we began rolling out refills to reduce the volume of plastic used in our product packaging. Refills have the added benefit of being more affordable for consumers.

In China, 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 assists in refilling the bottle and can be re-sealed.

Back to top