Unilever Embraces Sustainability By Rethinking Both Its Products and Packaging

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Multinational consumer goods giant Unilever has launched a laundry capsule in China created by recycling carbon emissions. It will unveil its first paper-based bottles for laundry detergent in Brazil next year, and it will introduce recyclable toothpaste tubes for its oral care brands Signal, Pepsodent, and Closeup in its largest oral care markets: India and France.

C02 Laundry Capsules

In partnership with carbon recycling company LanzaTech and manufacturer of green technology-based chemicals, India Glycols, British-Dutch company Unilever has found a way to capture carbon waste from a factory before it reaches the atmosphere and has transformed it into a cleaning ingredient(surfactant) for its new OMO detergent.

Surfactants acts as a cleaning agent in the detergent that can be used for household cleaning as well as laundry products and traditionally are developed from fossil fuels.

However, Unilever’s new detergent drops the use of fossil fuels completely — and has created a sustainable alternative through a three-way process. From LanzaTech capturing industrial emissions at a steel mill in Beijing to converting it into ethanol, a process that slashes GHGs by 82% compared to its traditional counterpart, and then India Glycols stepping in to convert it into ethylene oxide which can be used to make several ingredients including surfactants used in the production of its new OMO (Persil) laundry capsules at its Hefei factory in China.

Peter ter Kulve, president of Unilever’s Home Care division, said that by using cutting-edge technology, the team can reinvent the chemistry of its products. “Instead of valuable carbon being released directly into the atmosphere, we can capture it and recycle it in our products in place of using fossil fuels,” he said in a statement. “We want to make sustainability easy for everyone that uses our products. New innovations like this help move our iconic cleaning brands away from fossil fuels without compromising on performance or affordability.”

450 Million Tonnes of Carbon

According to a recent report by independent researchers Nova Institute that looks closely at embedded carbon, has said that 450 million tonnes of carbon are utilized each year to develop organic chemicals and derive materials that are used in everyday products and if these are failed to be recycled or renewed after its use, a huge part of this embedded carbon will end up in the atmosphere as CO2.

In addition, the report recognizes three primary sources of alternative renewable carbon sources namely recycling, biomass and CO2 capture.

Instead of valuable carbon being released directly into the atmosphere, we can capture it and recycle it in our products in place of using fossil fuels

Peter ter Kulve, president of Unilever’s Home Care division

In addition, Unilever’s partnership with LanzaTech and India Glycols is part of its Clean Future strategy and for this, it has unveiled the ‘Carbon Rainbow’, a novel approach to diversify the use of application for the carbon they use. As a result, non-renewable fossil sources of carbon (identified in the Carbon Rainbow as black carbon) will be replaced with captured CO2 (purple carbon), plants and biological sources (green carbon), marine sources like algae (blue carbon), and carbon recovered from waste materials (grey carbon).

Paper-Based Bottles For Laundry Detergent

Unilever will also launch its first paper-based bottles for laundry detergent in Brazil in 2022 with plans to introduce this packaging in Europe.

The bottle uses a new technology created in collaboration with the Pulpex consortium—a collaboration between Unilever, drinks manufacturers Diageo and PepsiCo, venture management firm Pilot Lite and other industry members. It has been set up in an effort to produce plastic-free, single-mould bottles that will be used by leading FMCG companies.

Unilever has made this bottle out of sustainably sourced pulp which is designed to be easily recycled with the inside sprayed with a proprietary coating that is resistant against water allowing it to hold liquids.

A prototype for its OMO brand is underway, also known as Persil, Skip and Breeze in different countries and it plans to use this tech to create paper-based hair care bottles as well.

Source: Unilever

Chief research and development officer of the company, Richard Slater, said that if a company needs to combat plastic waste, it is crucial to rethink how one designs and packages products. “This requires a drastic change that can only be achieved through industry-wide collaboration. Pulpex paper-based bottle technology is an exciting step in the right direction, and we are delighted to be working together to trial this innovation for our products. Innovating with alternative materials is a key part of our sustainable packaging strategy and will play an important role in our commitment to halve our use of virgin plastic materials by 2025.”

Recyclable Plastic Toothpaste Tubes

The company further aims to transform its entire global toothpaste portfolio to recyclable tubes by 2025 and to achieve this, it will be launching its first set of recyclable tubes in France through its oral care brand Signal. It will be rolled out across its Integral 8 range that represents over a third (35%) of Unilever’s toothpaste portfolio in the country.

Usually, toothpaste tubes are made from a mix of plastic and aluminum, making it almost impossible to recycle. However, the new tubes will now use a material with a high majority of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) which can be recycled and at 220-microns, the tubes will have the thinnest plastic material in the toothpaste market.

When it comes to making oral care sustainable, it has been challenging to develop a product that is recyclable without adding extra plastic to the tube. The new tubes are a key first step in reducing plastic waste, enabling consumers to minimise their impact on the planet

Alan Conner, vice president – Europe, EPL (formerly Essel Propack)

Executive vice president of global skin cleansing and oral care, Samir Singh said that every year, billions of toothpaste tubes are dumped into landfills. “That’s why I’m proud of this latest packaging innovation which will see our entire toothpaste portfolio shift to recyclable tubes by 2025. It’s been a long and challenging journey to get to this point, but we hope this transformation will inspire the wider industry to also make the change.”

Europe’s Recyclability Standard Approved

Approved by the recyclability standard for Europe – RecyClass as well as labs in Asia and North America, the company joined forces with global packaging manufacturers including EPL (formerly Essel Propack), Amcor, Huhtamaki and Dai Nippon Indonesia (DNPI) for the same.

Vice president – Europe, EPL (formerly Essel Propack), Alan Conner, said: “When it comes to making oral care sustainable, it has been challenging to develop a product that is recyclable without adding extra plastic to the tube. EPL is a global market leading supplier of toothpaste tubes and is delighted to support this breakthrough innovation representing a major turning point for the oral care industry and is a key first step in reducing plastic waste, enabling consumers to minimise their impact on the planet. Given the size and scale of Unilever, their commitment to convert 100% of its global toothpaste portfolio by 2025 will unquestionably lead others to take action as well.”

Furthermore, the giant will work with recycling companies to ensure that the tubes are collected and recycled, for instance, in France, consumers can discard their tubes in their home recycling bin, which will be collected and converted into new items.

Its brands like Signal will roll out more PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic into their recyclable tubes by 2022 in France and other European markets which is all in line with Unilever’s larger commitment of ensuring that 100% of its plastic packaging is designed to be reusable, recyclable or compostable and that it collects more than it sells.

Other initiatives include Unilever partnered with Alibaba Group to unveil the ‘Waste Free World’ initiative in China that aims to use an AI-powered recycling system to tackle plastic waste in the country; its Indian arm, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), announced its plans to meet 100% plastic waste collection in 2021; and the giant launched its largest refill trial in supermarket chain Asda in the British city of Leeds where consumers can even purchase a few products without any single-use packaging on them.

Read: Unilever CEO: Rise Of Plant-Based Food Is An ‘Inexorable’ Trend In ‘Every Single Country’

Lead image courtesy of Green Queen Media via Unilever.


  • Tanuvi Joe

    Born and bred in India and dedicated to the cause of sustainability, Tanuvi Joe believes in the power of storytelling. Through her travels and conversations with people, she raises awareness and provides her readers with innovative ways to align themselves towards a kinder way of living that does more good than harm to the planet. Tanuvi has a background in Journalism, Tourism, and Sustainability, and in her free time, this plant parent surrounds herself with books and rants away on her blog Ruffling Wings.

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