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Circular Economy

How Henkel plans to foster a circular economy across its entire value chain

Recycling, reusing, reducing emissions – everyone is talking about it: the circular economy. Packaging materials like plastic have many advantages, but their omnipresence has created a new set of challenges for us. How can we promote a responsible use of plastic within a circular economy and combat the problem of plastic waste through recycling? How can we accelerate the development of the circular economy across our entire value chain and thereby help protect the climate?

When waste becomes litter

Plastic everywhere: Plastic is essential to everyday life. Since it went on sale as a mass-manufactured product in the early 1950s, humanity produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. The related issues have, however, now become all too apparent. Newspapers, TV documentaries and social media regularly publish shocking images and reports on plastic waste. The core of the problem is that many countries collect and recycle waste improperly and the citizens are unaware that waste does not belong in nature. At the same time, most types of plastic take hundreds of years to biodegrade. This makes establishing a functioning waste and recycling management system for plastic materials even more important.

Plastic as a packaging material

Plastic is now the standard material for a huge number of applications. For example, plastic is often used for packaging because it’s able to fulfill an impressive range of functions – from making sure products stay undamaged while being transported and used, through to providing the right amount of product whenever it is needed. Since plastic packaging weighs less than other alternatives, it can even reduce the carbon footprint created during transport. This means that plastic is not bad in and of itself – it is a valuable material. The problem comes from the way in which plastic is used, and that is where the concept of a circular economy comes into play.

Closing the loop

Many leading environmental organizations argue that banning the use of plastic would be unrealistic because of its unique properties. Instead, the most effective way to address plastic’s impact on our planet is to transform our modern way of life and adopt a system in which all materials used can either be reused or repeatedly recycled. This solution – known as the circular economy – would cut waste, decrease resource consumption and reduce environmental pollution. Two requirements must be set for the recycling approach to succeed: Firstly, manufacturers must account for the reusability and recyclability of the materials they choose during the design phase; and secondly, public recycling systems must be implemented globally, such as the "Green Dot" in Germany.


Perwoll reycling bottles

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Rethinking our packaging design

Well thought-out packaging design plays a central role in the circular economy, especially when it comes to replacing new materials with recycled alternatives. Thanks to smart concepts that work with more sustainable materials in smaller quantities, we can significantly reduce waste and its negative impact on the environment. To transform a linear economy into a circular one, packaging concepts need to be rethought to allow materials to be preserved throughout economic cycles. Partnerships along the entire value chain will be key to driving the development of reusable, refillable and, most importantly, durable packaging solutions.

Trashfighter initiative

As part of our Sustainability Ambassador program, we launched our global Trashfighter initiative. It brings together our employees to fight against plastic waste in local parks and at beaches and riverbanks around the world. In this way, we aim to raise awareness about waste in the environment and encourage progress toward a circular economy, where everything is reused and nothing is wasted.

Reducing our environmental footprint together

Henkel is actively engaged in several partnerships aiming to drive progress toward a circular economy. For example, we’re participating in the New Plastics Economy, an initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that brings stakeholders together to redesign the future of plastics. We’re also partnering with the Plastic Bank, a social enterprise aiming to stop ocean plastic and provide opportunities for people in poverty by enabling them to earn money or services by removing waste from the environment and making it available for recycling. In addition to that, we are founding member of the global Alliance to End Plastic Waste. The Alliance will develop and bring to scale solutions that will minimize and manage plastic waste. It will also promote solutions for used plastics by helping to enable a circular economy.

    

Alongside these partnerships, we’ve set ourselves ambitious targets for sustainable packaging. These are part of our holistic strategy that is built around promoting a circular economy. This approach brings to life our commitment to living up to our responsibility as a manufacturer of consumer goods – and work toward finding a solution to our planet’s plastic problem.

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