Taking collective action – Driving progress toward a circular economy
There’s no doubt that it’s important to raise awareness about the need to keep plastic waste out of nature – and channel it into well thought-out recycling systems that turn waste into a valuable resource. While packaging certainly presents several challenges, it also plays a key role in our modern way of life. Without it, most products would expire or get damaged before arriving in a store. Banning plastic isn’t the best solution, as other types of packaging, such as glass or metal, often have a bigger carbon footprint.
A consistent recycling economy keeps plastic in the value chain for as long as possible.
According to the New Plastics Economy, which brings together business, government and other actors to rethink and redesign the future of plastic, we should look to reduce the amount of plastic we use, reuse it wherever possible, and ensure it is recycled properly so that it stays within the plastic value chain – a concept known as the circular economy. Companies that manufacture consumer products have a responsibility to promote sustainable packaging and support the transformation to a circular economy. But progress will only be possible if all stakeholders along the entire value chain join forces.
As a global consumer goods and industrial company, we at Henkel want to contribute to ending plastic waste. Developing sustainable solutions for this challenge will only be possible if we engage and collaborate across the entire value chain – from suppliers, trade partners, consumers and organizations through to governments.
Please push the plus signs on the infographic to learn more about the steps in the circular economy.
Henkel develops and uses sustainable packaging. Ambitious targets are part of a holistic strategy that is built around promoting a circular economy. In order to drive innovation in packaging development and to find effective solutions that can be developed on a large scale, Henkel is engaged in several partnerships and cross-industry initiatives: For example, the company is member of the New Plastics Economy (NPEC), founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) and partner of social enterprise Plastic Bank. We as Henkel also want to promote open collaboration. In order to quickly and reliably determine the recyclability of new packaging, Henkel developed a software tool called EasyD4R. Henkel has now made this assessment tool publicly available on its website under www.henkel.com/easyd4r so that more companies and organizations can use it and more easily develop sustainable packaging solutions.
A circular economy can only succeed if all participants along the value chain cooperate – especially with clear definitions and consistent evaluations. By sharing our assessment tool, we want to contribute to the recyclability of packaging.
Colin Zenger – Sustainable Packaging Laundry & Home Care at Henkel
Henkel also invested into a specialist circular economy fund. When we closed the investment into Circularity European Growth Fund I LP with the investment of 5 million pounds, we wanted to take another step in expanding the company’s venture capital activities while further promoting a circular economy.
Retailers provide us with excellent platforms for informing consumers about more sustainable products and packaging. Henkel works hand-in-hand with its retail partners to advocate sustainable behavior. We aim to enable contact with more than 2 billion consumers per year by providing targeted information about recycling by 2025. Henkel is member of the “Rezyklat-Forum” (“forum recyclate”) initiated by German drugstore chain dm-drogerie markt.
Henkel developed new product packaging logos to promote sustainable purchasing behavior and to teach how to recycle properly. The logos communicate the amount of recyclate or recyclability of the respective packaging and/or ensure that the product is properly recycled.
We also communicate the proportion of so-called Social Plastic® in our product packaging. Henkel already launched a range of cosmetics and detergents/cleaners containing up to 50 percent Social Plastic® in their packaging.
Consumers play an important role, as they need to recycle products properly at home. Information is a key factor in steering them towards circular behavior patterns. Therefore, we also communicate the recyclability of our products on labels. For certain products, the consumer needs to follow certain steps to make sure the product is recycled properly, which is also explained in easily understandable logos.
With the Vernel bottle, the bottle body must be separated from the plastic cover. This is the only way to recycle both parts. To make this process easier for consumers, Henkel has developed a product logo with a kind of "zipper".
Another option to close the loop is to reuse packaging and explore refill solutions in relevant markets. Refillable packaging enables consumers to reuse the original bottle.
In addition to new product forms and the use of recycled plastics in our packaging, we are also testing the use of refill stations. The concept is simple enough: customers buy a container once and fill it with detergent or dishwashing liquid.
Henkel has been partnering with TerraCycle since 2016. Henkel’s Adhesive Technologies business unit launched a partnership with TerraCycle for customers in the USA, making it possible for them to recycle their used adhesives packaging instead of sending them to a landfill or incinerator. Teams from Henkel and TerraCycle worked together to develop a process that deactivates the adhesive, making it easier to remove from the plastic packaging. This material is then melted and turned into pellets that can be used to manufacture new products – from garbage cans to park benches and outdoor furniture. Canadian consumers can now send in their empty Sunlight® and Purex® plastic detergent pouches to be recycled for free.
Ideally, consumers should be able to dispose of packaging in a responsible way once they’ve finished using a product. When looking at this issue, geographical differences exist. In emerging markets, there is often no infrastructure in place to process waste.
This is why Henkel became the first fast-moving consumer goods company to team up with Plastic Bank in 2017. The joint goal: reduce plastic waste in the oceans while improving the lives of people in poverty – especially in countries that lack waste management infrastructure. With the help of Henkel, Plastic Bank opened three additional plastic collection branches in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. The local population can return collected plastic waste and exchange it for money, goods, or services. This material, called Social Plastic, is then integrated back into the plastic value chain. Henkel is now moving further and integrating Social Plastic in various product packaging.
In 2019, more than 1,300 Henkel employees have joined together and participated in a worldwide initiative to clean up riverbanks, neighborhoods and even some of the work sites.
The vast majority of ocean plastic comes from regions without adequate waste management and recycling. In fact, about 80 % of all plastic in the ocean originates on land, and 10 major river systems are the primary pathway by which unmanaged waste reaches the ocean.
Philippe Blank – Head of Packaging Sustainability at Henkel Beauty Care
Waste that is collected cannot pollute oceans. Typical collection pathways are communal pickup, instore collection or waste collection activities. Consumers need to sort waste into different bins, set up compost systems in gardens or drive to the recycling center once a year. Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. For many types of waste, the right disposal is not straight forward. For other waste, unawareness means they end up in the wrong bin. And the new, allegedly compostable packaging materials make people uncertain. We try to help our consumers and have put together some advice on recycling that may not be obvious for everyone.
If waste is not collected and recycled, landfill disposal is an option. A landfill site is a site for the disposal of waste materials by burial. At Henkel, we want to stop disposing of production waste in landfills at all production sites, including for our industrial business, by 2030.
Another option, if waste can no longer be recycled, is energy recovery. In this case, the waste is incinerated in a waste incineration plant and used for energy - in the form of heat and / or electricity.
Comprehensive and efficient recycling solutions for industrial customers: Saperatec has developed an innovative, patented technology that among others allows the separation and recycling of flexible packaging that contains aluminum foil.
To enable a circular economy, we are striving to make sure our product packaging can be recycled after the product has been consumed. By systematically applying design-for-recycling principles, we want to overcome recycling hurdles specific to each category, like flexible packaging, sleeved or black packaging. At the same time, it is important that appropriate systems for recycling packaging materials are in place.
Mechanical recycling of plastics is the most common form of reprocessing. It occurs by melting, filtering and degassing in an extruder. Used parts are shredded, cleaned and sorted by type. When items are very compatible and recycling streams are very pure, it is possible to recycle in a closed loop – this exists for example for PET bottles, which can be made out of 100% recycled plastic. More common is open loop recycling which accepts certain incompatibility and conta-mination.
There still exist some challenges for different packaging material like for example flexible packaging. In Europe alone, many thousand tons of waste of flexible packaging for the food industry are generated annually. The removal of this waste is cost-intensive. We need innovative and cost-efficient recycling technology that makes it possible to reintroduce the production materials into the raw-material cycle. Henkel aims to provide its industrial customers with comprehensive and efficient recycling solutions for flexible packaging especially in the food industry. Therefore we are investing in innovative startup companies, like the specialist Saperatec. The company has developed an innovative, patented technology that among others allows the separation and recycling of flexible packaging that contains aluminum foil.
Our approach ensures valuable resources are kept in the loop for longer and less waste is being generated. By combining efforts along the value chain, we are one step closer in enabling the desired circularity of flexible packaging for a more sustainable future.
Marcin Lapaj, Global Business Development Manager for Circular Economy at Adhesive Technologies
Chemical recycling is a general term used to describe innovative technologies where post-consumer plastic waste is converted into valuable chemicals, to be used as feedstock by the chemical industry.
For the first time, Henkel has produced bottles using chemically recycled plastic in collaboration with packaging manufacturer Alpla. Through chemical recycling, mixed plastic waste that was previously impossible to recycle can be effectively reprocessed and reused. The pilot project with bottles of Perwoll is part of the ChemCycling project led by BASF.
Mechanical recycling continues to be a priority for us. But we see huge potential for chemical recycling to complement conventional recycling because mechanical recycling is limited by the fact that not all plastic waste can be reprocessed into high quality material.
Dr. Thorsten Leopold, Director of International Packaging Development Home Care at Henkel
The final step of the cycle is packaging preparation and production. Plastics manufacturer and converters produce ready-to-fill packaging from basic plastic raw materials. Increasingly, recycled plastics are used instead of virgin material. We as Henkel collaborate intensively with our partners in the plastic packaging sector. Together with our supplier Ampacet, a global provider of masterbatch, Henkel is developing an innovative solution for black plastic packaging that is fully recyclable.
In collaboration with Ampacet, Henkel is developing an innovative solution for black plastic packaging that is fully recyclable.