Creating smarter packaging

We drive progress towards a circular economy by creating smarter packaging for the benefit of people and the planet. 

  • Why we need packaging
  • Driving progress towards a circular economy
  • Henkel concentrates its efforts to drive progress on three key phases
  • Partnerships to close the loop
  • New packaging concepts 

The packaging for our consumer products fulfills many different functions. It ensures the hygiene and safety of the products, protects goods during transport, provides space for necessary consumer information, and plays an important role in the purchasing decision through attractive design. 

Our goal is to design packaging with the most sustainable materials available, while using the least possible amount of packaging material – all without compromising the high level of performance expected by consumers. To achieve this goal, our packaging engineers work closely with partners along the entire value chain so they can make use of leading design techniques, modern production technologies and sustainable materials in the development process.

Packaging waste – especially plastic waste and pollution – has captured the attention of the public, governments, and businesses around the world. A systemic shift that tackles the root causes is required: a transition toward a circular economy. Resource consumption can be reduced if materials are kept within the cycles of the economy for as long as possible.

Our mission is to include materials from sustainable sources into smart designs to close the loop.

1. Materials from sustainable sources

  • Henkel constantly works on increasing the share of recycled content in its packaging. While many of our brands already offer products with packaging made from recycled material, we have set the ambitious target to increase the proportion of recycled plastic globally to more than 30 percent in all plastic packaging for our consumer goods products by 2025. At the end of 2020, this share was around 15 percent.
  • In addition, we will increasingly use bio-based plastic because it enables more sustainable solutions. Provided they can deliver the same technical performance as conventional polymers, they could offer a good alternative and provide long-term benefits. We explicitly exclude sources of raw materials that might be in competition with food. For this reason, we are testing the use of second-generation bio-based feedstock material.
  • The most widely used packaging materials made from renewable raw materials are paper and cardboard. It is our goal to obtain 100 percent of the paper and cardboard that we use in our packaging from recycled material or, where virgin fiber is required, from sustainable forestry sources. Our suppliers used 69 percent recycled material in 2020. Creating more transparency in the supply chain is another focus of our cooperation with our suppliers. This involves the traceability of the materials we buy, especially in the case of suppliers who source virgin fibers from high-risk countries. In these circumstances, we work together on measures to minimize risk.

2. Smart packaging desgin

  • Reducing packaging material by offering smart solutions is the best way to minimize waste and the related negative environmental effects. For many years, we have been striving to reduce the quantity of packaging material in the entire product life cycle without impacting the quality, performance, or safety of our products. We will continue to do so in the future.
  • Our goal is to reduce the amount of plastic used in our consumer packaging. As well as this, smart designs play a vital role right from the start when it comes to replacing virgin material with recycled or renewable alternatives where feasible and technically possible. For example, stability requirements can limit the use of alternative materials in some packaging. However, smart design goes beyond this and enables the use of more sustainable materials in smaller amounts.
  • To transform a linear economy into a circular economy, our packaging experts rethink packaging concepts and assess further ways of developing re-usable and re-fillable solutions that place a stronger focus on durability. They also continue to optimize transport packaging and related logistics.

3. Closing the loop

  • To enable a circular economy, we are striving to make sure our product packaging can be recycled after the product has been consumed. Our aim is that 100 percent of Henkel’s packaging will be recyclable or reusable by 2025. At the end of 2020, we had achieved this for around 89 percent of our packaging.
  • Our understanding of recyclable or reusable is based on the Design for Recyclability Guidelines published by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. By systematically applying design-for-recycling principles of this type, we want to overcome recycling hurdles specific to each category, such as flexible packaging, sleeves or black packaging.
  • At the same time, it is important that appropriate systems for recycling packaging materials are in place. That is why we partner with organizations from along the packaging value chain to drive progress in the infrastructure for recycling.
  • In particular, we work with our retail partners to help consumers understand how to use and dispose of our products correctly. Among other things, special recycling symbols on our products help us to do this. We aim to enable contact with more than 2 billion consumers per year by providing targeted information about recycling.
  • Another option to close the loop is to reuse packaging. We are testing refill solutions in relevant markets to explore and understand consumer acceptance, as well as the related requirements and costs. We also want to maximize the re-usability of secondary and tertiary packaging that is typically used for shelf displays or logistical purposes.

Overview of our Packaging Targets

  • 100 percent of Henkel’s packaging will be recyclable or reusable. *
  • We aim to reduce the amount of virgin plastics from fossil sources in our consumer products by 50 percent. We will achieve this by increasing the proportion of recycled plastic to more than 30 percent, by reducing the plastic volume, and by increasingly using bio-based plastics.
  • We want to help prevent waste from entering the environment. In order to achieve this, we are supporting waste collection and recycling initiatives. 
  • We invest in innovative solutions and technologies to promote closed-loop recycling, and we aim to enable contact with more than 2 billion consumers per year by providing targeted information about recycling.

Alongside this, we aim for 100 percent of the paper and cardboard we use to be made of recycled material or, where virgin fiber is required, to come from fresh fiber originating from sustainable forestry. We also want to remove and avoid polyvinyl chlorides (PVC) and other substances of potential concern.

* Excluding products where ingredients or residue may affect recyclability or pollute recycling streams.

Progress toward sustainability in packaging will only be possible if organizations from all stages of the packaging value chain work together. Henkel’s experts are engaged in several cross-industry initiatives to drive innovation in packaging development and to find effective solutions that can be developed on a large scale. Henkel has also teamed up with different organizations that are working on improving recycling infrastructure to enable a circular economy. Appropriate systems for recycling packaging materials are not in place in many areas, especially in developing countries. We believe that partnerships along the value chain are the only way we can make sure our product packaging can be recycled or reused after the product has been consumed.

Cross-industry initiatives to tackle challenges in sustainable packaging

Henkel is also committed to cross-industry initiatives for sustainable packaging. Henkel is a founding member of a new initiative focusing on plastic waste, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW). Since 2019, more than 80 international companies from along the value chain for plastics and consumer goods have joined forces to tackle the global challenge of a circular economy together. The aim of the alliance is to promote solutions that put a stop to plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean. Another example is our membership of the New Plastics Economy (NPEC), an initiative led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that brings key stakeholders together to rethink and reshape the future of plastic and build momentum toward a circular economy. In October 2018, the New Plastics Economy introduced its Global Commitment, which has been signed by more than 400 organizations – including Henkel. The collective goal is to stop plastic waste and pollution at the source.

In February 2020, Henkel joined the European Plastics Pact. Initiated by France and the Netherlands, it aims to accelerate the transition to a circular plastics economy. The Pact brings together leading companies, non-governmental organizations and governments, who commit to achieving common goals by 2025, going beyond current legislation.

Henkel is also a founding member of CEFLEX, a consortium of more than 130 European companies and organizations aiming to make flexible packaging – which usually consists of multiple layers of film or foil that are often difficult to separate – easier to recycle.

Social partnerships to transform waste into opportunity

Plastic Bank is a social enterprise that aims to stop plastic pollution from entering the oceans, while also providing opportunities for people in poverty. Henkel started working with Plastic Bank in 2017, and was the first major global consumer goods company to partner with the organization and successfully incorporate the plastic collected into some of its product packaging. Since the beginning of the partnership, five new plastic collection centers have been established in Haiti, a country that lacks adequate waste management infrastructure. Local communities can return collected plastic waste and exchange it for money, goods, or social benefits. This creates value from plastic instead of letting it enter waterways or oceans as waste. The plastic that is collected in Haiti is then sorted and can subsequently be introduced into the recycling value chain as Social Plastic®. This is material that has been verified by Plastic Bank to indicate that the collectors received an above-market price for the plastic waste. The recycled Social Plastic® can be used in products or packaging, which closes the material cycle. A total of more than 760 metric tons of Social Plastic® have been processed for Henkel since the partnership began in 2017.

Our EasyD4R® software tool for evaluating the recyclability of packaging

Recyclable packaging is a prerequisite for a functioning circular economy. In order to quickly and reliably determine the recyclability of new packaging, Henkel has developed the software tool EasyD4R®. The tool is based on public and recognized sets of criteria, such as those from Plastics Recyclers Europe. It is used by Henkel throughout the company. The goal is to quickly and accurately assess the recyclability of packaging as early as the first stages of product development. The tool’s effectiveness was confirmed in an independent test conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology (UMSICHT). 

Henkel developed its software tool EasyD4R® further in 2020. Alongside quickly and reliably checking the recyclability of plastic packaging, it is now also possible to check packaging made of paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum, or tinplate. This involved integrating design guidelines created by the University of Applied Sciences, Vienna Campus, along with the German minimum standard for packaging. An independent test conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology (UMSICHT) confirmed that the enhanced tool reliably assesses recyclability.

The assessment tool, which other companies and organizations can also use free of charge, makes an important contribution to developing sustainable packaging solutions and promoting a circular economy. Henkel has received highly positive external feedback in this respect. EasyD4R® has been downloaded more than 3,400 times so far. These successes have also been recognized externally, with Henkel winning this year’s Best Practice sustainability award from Packaging Europe with its software tool.

Henkel invests in chemical recycling

In 2019, Henkel and the packaging manufacturer Alpla jointly produced bottle bodies based on chemically recycled plastic for the first time. Plastic waste that is not recycled by mechanical recycling can be returned to the cycle through chemical recycling. In certain cases, chemical recycling can be used alongside mechanical recycling. By using chemical recycling, material made from fossil resources can be replaced by recycled material made from plastic waste.

The pilot project using Perwoll bottles is part of BASF’s ChemCycling project. ChemCycling uses thermochemical processes to convert plastic waste into pyrolysis oil. This secondary raw material can then be used in the chemical industry. A possible application is the production of plastic, for example for packaging. The packaging made from these chemically recycled materials has the same quality as packaging based on virgin plastic. This reduces waste and also decreases the amount of fossil raw materials that are used, which is important because these materials often cannot be recycled mechanically for a variety of reasons such as heavy contamination or lack of sortability.

Refill stations are gaining importance 

While recycling remains an important factor for sustainability as a whole, refill stations and systems for reusing packaging are also becoming increasingly important. In addition to new product forms and the use of recycled plastics in our packaging, we are also using refill stations. The concept is simple: customers buy a container once and fill it with detergent or dishwashing liquid. 

As part of a pilot project, we set up refill stations in selected test markets in the Czech Republic in November 2019. Customers can refill liquid detergents, fabric softeners, dishwashing liquids or shampoos and shower gels in these stores. The “gas station” system was designed so that the customer selects an empty bottle of the required product when they enter the store, and they then scan its code at the station. A label is also printed to inform the customer of the product’s expiry date. When the product is used up, the customer takes the empty bottle back to refill it.

The detergents and dishwashing liquid of the new Laundry & Home Care brand Love Nature can also be refilled. In selected stores of several drugstore and supermarket chains, “Mein Spülmittel” and “Mein Waschmittel” can be filled and easily refilled again and again. This makes Love Nature the first detergent and cleaning brand to offer this service across all retailers in Germany. In addition, the bottle bodies are made of 100 percent recycled plastic and can be fully recycled. 

In November 2020, the Beauty Care Professional brand Authentic Beauty Concept launched the first vegan refill bar on the European market. First the stylist provides a personal, professional consultation about the client’s hair routine and wishes, and then recommends the right Authentic Beauty Concept product. As a second step, the stylist uses the refill bar to fill a bottle made from 92 percent recycled plastic with the required product. Once the client has used it all up at home, the empty bottle can be brought back to the salon to be refilled. This new process prolongs the life of single-use bottles, cutting plastic consumption and encouraging a circular economy.

* Excluding adhesive products where residue may affect recyclability or pollute recycling streams.