Creating smarter packaging

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

Our packaging ambitions and targets for 2025

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 2023, this share was 19 percent.
  • 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 certified sustainable forestry sources. We carried out a survey on this in 2023 for the reference year 2022, in which we achieved 96 percent coverage. The findings are based on information provided by the suppliers themselves and cover over 90 percent of our order volume in the paper and cardboard materials sector. Most 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 means that 89 percent of the virgin paper and cardboard procured is certified (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 0.02 percent 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 2023, we had achieved this for around 87 percent of our packaging.
  • We base our understanding of recyclable or reusable on the German minimum standard, the RecyClass guidelines from Plastics Recyclers Europe, the “Golden Design Rules” published by the Consumer Goods Forum, and the guidelines of the “Global Commitment” of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. By systematically applying material-specific design principles like these, which are designed to support a circular economy, we aim to overcome the barriers to collection, sorting and recycling in each category of packaging,- such as flexible multi-material packaging, shrink-wrapping or carbon black plastic packaging,– and find alternatives that can also be recycled and which are based on secondary raw materials that can be used as raw materials for new products.
  • 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. Under our premium brand Authentic Beauty Concept, we are testing refill solutions for the hair salon business. We have learned from our first generation of refill stations and introduced a new generation of refill bars with larger dispensers and a better setup. We also offer refill solutions with refill bags and concentrates in Europe and North America, for example for products of our brands Pril and Dial.
  • 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 high­quality 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 in the form of sustainable and safe paper-based food packaging. We also offer adhesives that are optimized for recycling and significantly improve the recycling rate and quality.
  • Debonding: A circular value chain depends on recognizing and conserving 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. 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.
  • Renewable carbon: Henkel has been a founding member of the Renewable Carbon Initiative since 2020. This initiative aims to accelerate the transition from fossil-based to renewable carbon for all organic chemicals and materials. Adhesive Technologies is also pioneering 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.
  • Bio-based adhesives: We have also developed a range of bio-based adhesives. 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 this principle 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. By the end of 2023, five 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. Our membership in the Global Commitment Initiative of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which brings together different stakeholders in the plastics chain to shape the future of plastics and create momentum for a circular economy, is an important example of our engagement in this area. Other initiatives include the U.S. Plastics Pact and CEFLEX.

The Plastic Waste Coalition of Action was formed from the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) in 2020. In this coalition, Henkel is working with 34 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 also actively supports the “Business Coalition for a Global Plastics Treaty” of the UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution. Along with more than 170 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.

One of our partners on the path to improved recycling of waste and the establishment of a circular economy is the social enterprise Plastic Bank. Henkel began its partnership with Plastic Bank in 2017 with the aim of reducing plastic waste in the environment and creating new opportunities for people living in poverty. In 2019, we extended this partnership by a further five years in order to support Plastic Bank’s commitment to establishing and developing local recycling infrastructure in Egypt. As of 2023, there were 24 collection centers operating around Cairo, along the Nile River, and in Red Sea vacation hotspots. Henkel also joined the UK Aerosol Recycling Initiative in 2023. This initiative is spearheaded by the not-for-profit organization Alupro, and aims to achieve a national aerosol recycling rate of 50 percent by 2030.

In Mexico, we partnered with Mexico Recicla, a company that produces HDPE recyclate from household packaging waste. This partnership has enabled us to introduce 50 percent recycled plastic for a range of detergent bottle bodies, including Persil.

As part of our aim to support the circular economy, we also entered into a partnership with Circular Valley in 2023. The aim of this partnership is to promote the circular economy and facilitate networking with local and international companies, startups, incubators and think tanks. Based in Wuppertal, Germany, the non-profit foundation works across industries and technologies to close material loops in existing value chains, develop policy recommendations and ensure that the public is consistently informed about the circular economy.

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 132companies and organizations in the new HolyGrail 2.0 initiative, which uses digital watermarks to promote better packaging recycling.