Creating smarter packaging

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

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.

Our strategy to promote the circular economy for packaging is centered around three pillars:

1. Intelligent packaging design and reduction of packaging material

  • Sustainable packaging solutions are the best way to create an efficient and cost-effective circular economy. Innovative design is essential in replacing virgin raw materials with recycled or renewable alternatives wherever ­possible, which enables the use of more sustainable or renewable material. 
  • 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.

2. 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 2022, this share was around 16 percent.
  • The most widely used packaging materials made from renewable raw materials are paper and cardboard. It is our target to obtain 100 percent of the paper and cardboard from recycled material or, where virgin fiber is required, from sustainable forestry sources. We achieved a coverage of 96 percent for the fiscal year 2022 for our target. This is based on a survey that we conducted until August 2023 amongst our main suppliers, representing more than 90 percent of our spend in this area. The majority of the suppliers use at least one or more of the following certification systems: FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). This concludes in 89 percent of the virgin paper and cardboard sourced being certified (respectively 76 percent of all paper and cardboard). 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.
  • Today, we only use PVC in a few exceptional cases for which we have not yet found a workable alternative. Overall, materials containing PVC currently make up less than 0.05percent of our total global expenditure on packaging. We continue to work toward our goal of fully removing PVC from our packaging materials.

3. Closing the loop together

  • 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 designed for recycling or reuse by 2025. At the end of 2022, we had achieved this for around 87 percent of our packaging.
  • Our understanding of recyclable or reusable is based on the Design for Recycling 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 collection, sorting and 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 collection and recycling. Our ambition under the framework of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is to ensure that there is no unregulated disposal of packaging waste.
  • Henkel is developing and testing new logos for product packaging to promote sustainable purchasing habits and communicate how to recycle properly. The logos indicate the percentage of recycled material or the recyclability of the packaging, and some also help to ensure that the product packaging is recycled properly.
  • We are testing a variety of approaches to meet the demand from consumers and distributors for reusable packaging and refills. These refill solutions are designed either as a home solution or for purchasing products from a refill station to fill existing packaging.
  • Another option to close the loop is to reuse packaging. We also want to maximize the re-usability of secondary and tertiary packaging that is typically used for shelf displays or logistical purposes.

Our Adhesive Technologies business unit makes it possible to keep high-­quality materials in circulation and turn waste into valuable resources. By combining our expertise in materials with our innovative technologies, we provide solutions that play an important role in the transition to a circular economy and are driving a rethink in industrial design and production. Our approach to promoting a circular economy is centered around the following factors:

  • Recyclability: Our easily recyclable or reusable packaging design solutions deliver recyclability at the end of the value chain. We work with our customers to develop solutions for the innovative redesign of products and packaging, for example, by developing sustainable and safe paper-based food packaging. We also offer adhesives that are optimized for recycling and significantly improve the recycling rate and quality. A case in point is our Loctite® Liofol range of laminating adhesives designed for use in flexible packaging. These adhesives have been recognized by the cross-industry non-profit organization RecyClass as fully compatible with existing recycling processes.
  • Debonding: A circular value chain depends on recognizing and con- serving the value of materials. Debonding makes it possible to repair, reuse and recycle products and product parts, and to separate materials that are not suitable for collective recycling. As such, this is an important lever for extending the useful life of products and recovering the value of materials at the end of a product’s life cycle. This is particularly true for products that contain highly valuable raw materials, such as batteries in electric cars. This is the reason why we have established a strategic partnership with the RWTH Aachen spin-off organization PEM Motion, which involves collaborating to pioneer more sustainable next-generation battery technologies and develop innovative solutions that meet the material requirements of a closed-loop system. At the end of the value chain, our technologies support the separation of materials and components that cannot be recycled or reused collectively.
  • Renewable carbon: Henkel has been a founding member of the Renewable Carbon Initiative since 2020. This aims to promote acceleration of the transition from fossil-based to renewable carbon for all organic chemicals and materials. Henkel Adhesive Technologies also aims to pioneer new solutions for adhesives, sealants and functional coatings that replace fossil carbon-based raw materials with renewable materials. This reduces the carbon footprint of our products and supports our customers in reducing their emissions along the value chain. In addition, we contribute to a circular economy by reducing the consumption of resources. We are committed to using recycled materials as a renewable carbon source, both for our product formulas and as part of our product packaging, among other uses. For example, in 2022 we launched a pilot program for the full recycling of our Ceresit CE 50 Ecobuckets. As part of the program, the 100-percent recyclable product packaging is collected, reprocessed and reintroduced into the cycle in collaboration with recycling specialist Akpol and packaging manufacturer Jokey. As a result, around 420 kilograms of recycled material could be used in new packaging containers in the first year alone.
  • Bio-based adhesives: We have also developed a range of bio-based adhesives. To this end, over the past few years we have been working with our suppliers to advance the concept of mass balance. This is a transparent model for tracking the amount of certified and non-certified material along the entire production process. Because the principle of mass balance enables the use of renewable carbon-based raw materials within existing processes, it is an important step for a gradual transition to the use of renewable resources. In 2022, three production sites of our Adhesive Technologies business unit were fully certified under ISCC PLUS, a globally recognized certification system for mass balance.

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. 2022 Henkel also joined the US Plastics Pact. The pact brings together leading companies, NGOs and governments committed to achieving common goals by 2025 and going beyond current legislation.

The Plastic Waste Coalition of Action was formed from the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in 2020. In this coalition, Henkel is working with 35 other companies on the basis of Golden Design Rules to develop a more circular approach to the design and processing of plastic packaging in the consumer goods industry.

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.

Moreover, in 2022 Henkel was a supporter of the High Ambition Business Coalition of the UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution. Along with more than 80 other global companies, we are engaged in a multi-stakeholder process to develop a global agreement on the sustainable use, recovery and recycling of plastics by 2024, which will be ratified and implemented worldwide.

Social partnerships to transform waste into opportunity

In 2017, Henkel became the first major global consumer goods company to partner with Plastic Bank. In 2021, Henkel and Plastic Bank started to expand the collection and recycling infrastructure in multiple cities in Egypt. In 2022, there were 14 collection centers operating around Cairo, along the Nile River, and in Red Sea vacation hotspots. 

In 2022, the planned annual collection capacity for 5,000 tons of plastic has already been achieved and around 1,000 jobs created.

Innovations for the future

Due to the dye used (carbon), black plastic packaging poses a challenge to the recycling value chain. In 2019, together with its supplier Ampacet, a global masterbatch producer, Henkel began working on an innovative solution for black plastic packaging that is recognized in the automatic sorting process and is fully recyclable. The new packaging material uses an alternative black colorant that is carbon-free, so that bottles can be returned to the value chain after use. The Cyclos-HTP Institute, which specializes in classifying, assessing and certifying the recyclability of packaging and products, has confirmed that Henkel’s bottles, in black color and carbon-free, are fully detectable and sortable.

Two of the most pressing challenges on the journey to a circular economy for packaging are the need to improve the collection and sorting of post-consumer packaging waste and to have sufficient infrastructure in place for collection, sorting and recycling. Since September 2020, Henkel has been one of more than 85 companies and organizations in the new HolyGrail 2.0 initiative, which is a pioneering initiative for digital watermarks for better recycling of packaging.

Refillable packaging are gaining importance

To promote the circular economy in our business operations, we are focusing on innovative, intelligent and sustainable packaging concepts. In addition to new product forms and the use of recyclable and recycled plastics in our packaging, we also use refillable packaging.

We are testing a variety of approaches to meet the demand from consumers and distributors for reusable packaging and refills. These refill solutions are designed either as a home solution or for purchasing products from a refill station to fill existing packaging. Under our premium brand Authentic Beauty Concept, we are testing refill solutions for the hair salon business. With the help of the "Refill Bar”, hair salon visitors can refill their favorite products repeatedly in a bottle made of recycled material. We also offer refill solutions with refill bags and concentrates in Europe and North America, for example for our Schauma, Fa, Nature Box and Pril brands.