Packaging plays a key role in our modern way of life. Without it, most products would expire or get damaged before arriving in a store. However, it’s frequently pointed out as one of the main villains in our planet’s battle for environmental sustainability because it turns into waste after its use. That’s why companies from across industries are searching for ways to close the loop and minimize the negative environmental impact of packaging while still benefitting from its positive properties.
It protects the products we love and provides information about how to use them safely and responsibly – but packaging needs to become part of a circular economy.
This search relies on people with a range of skills – but packaging designers are the key players when it comes to tackling the challenges of sustainable packaging. From making packaging easier to recycle after use through to integrating more recycled material in new packaging: These experts create packaging that protects the products we love while also offering a better contribution to the planet.
Towards a circular economy
Eliminating, reducing and – where this is not possible – recycling packaging materials, especially for our consumer goods, is the best way to minimize waste and the related negative environmental effects. Our goal is to reduce the amount of packaging material we use to a minimum – without compromising the quality, performance or safety of our products – and to provide consumers with all the information they need for safe use and proper disposal. With a few exceptions, today our packaging has been developed to provide the level of performance consumers expect, while minimizing the use of resources. In addition, our packaging can be disposed of in existing collection and recycling systems.
At the same time, resource consumption can be reduced if materials are kept within the cycles of the economy for as long as possible. As a result, our mission is to include materials from sustainable sources and to design packaging so that it can be reused as raw materials for new products in order to close the material loop. Our packaging developers work closely with suppliers, packaging material manufacturers, recyclers and reprocessors to meet the requirements of functional packaging.
In our Adhesive Technologies business unit, we are focusing on innovative solutions that facilitate recycling and on the separation of materials to make it possible to repair, reuse and refurbish products and product parts.
Henkel is also pursuing a variety of approaches to implement closed-loop recycling in its own production processes. In this area, we emphasize the separate collection of all recyclable waste streams at our sites.
Our packaging strategy: Strong focus, ambitious targets
At Henkel, we recognize our responsibility related to packaging. We’re committed to promoting sustainability and bring this commitment to life through a set of ambitious targets. Our strategy is built around the circular economy concept and focuses on including materials from sustainable sources and using a smart design to close the loop – for the benefit of people and the planet.
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. Our aim is that by 2025, 100 percent of Henkel’s packaging will have all of the necessary properties to enter a recycling process or be reusable.
2. Use of material from sustainable sources
Henkel constantly works on increasing the share of recycled content in ist packaging. We also aim to use packaging made from sustainable raw materials. 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.
3. Closing the loop together
We partner with organizations from along the packaging value chain to drive progress in the infrastructure for recycling. Our ambition under the framework of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) is to ensure that there is no unregulated disposal of packaging waste. To achieve this environmental goal, we are driving collection and recycling systems that demonstrably support infrastructures that produce measurable collection and recycling volumes. 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. Another option for preventing waste is to reuse packaging.
Our packaging ambitions and targets
- 100 percent of Henkel’s packaging is designed and developed to optimize recyclability or reusability by 2025.*
- We aim to reduce the amount of virgin plastics from fossil sources in our consumer products by 50 percent by 2025. We will achieve this by increasing the proportion of recycled plastic to more than 30 percent and reducing the volume of virgin plastic.
- We want to continuously help ensure that all packaging waste is properly disposed of and recycled, thereby preventing it from entering the environment. In order to achieve this, we are supporting waste collection and recycling initiatives. We are investing in innovative solutions and technologies that support improved infrastructure and consumer information to drive the recycling process.
* Excluding products where ingredients or residue may affect recyclability or pollute recycling streams.
Alongside this, we aim for 100 percent of the paper fibers in our paper packaging and cardboard to be made of recycled material or, where virgin fiber is required, to come from fresh fiber originating from certified, sustainable forestry. We also intend to discontinue the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other potentially harmful substances that are suspected of harming the environment and endangering health.
Packaging examples for more sustainability
RecyClass approval for recyclability
Two Henkel adhesives from the Loctite Liofol RE range for use in flexible packaging have been recognized by the cross-industry non-profit organization RecyClass as fully compatible with existing recycling processes for polyethylene (PE). The development of these adhesives ensures that flexible packaging can be recycled into higher quality plastics, and it enables better second life options in various applications. This is a key milestone towards greater sustainability and the creation of a circular economy.
Plastic-free outer packaging for Pritt
The outer packaging of Pritt consumer adhesives was redesigned in 2022. The outer packaging is now plastic-free, consists of at least 85 percent recycled paper and is fully recyclable.
Pril bottle body made from 100 percent recycled PET
50 percent of the bottle bodies of Pril washing-up liquid produced in Germany are now made of recycled refuse from the “yellow bag” recycling system in Germany. Recycled drinks bottles are used for the remaining proportion, which means that the bottle bodies are made of 100 percent recycled PET (rPET).
Partnerships along the value chain: Stronger together
Our efforts to achieve these targets are brought to life through strong collaboration with partners from across industries to drive innovation in packaging development.
- New Plastics Economy: this initiative is led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and brings stakeholders together to rethink the future of plastic and build momentum toward a circular economy.
- Alliance To End Plastic Waste: Henkel is a founding member of this global alliance which has the aim to promote solutions that put a stop to plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean.
- Recyclate Forum: this initiative aims to raise consumers’ awareness of circular economy and consist of over 40 members, such as retailers, manufacturers, waste disposal companies, packaging producers and politicians.
- European Plastics Pact and U.S. Plastics Pact: Henkel signed plastics pacts, in both the US and Europe. These two regional agreements, to which we were one of the first signatories, bring governments and businesses together to collaborate in moving toward a circular economy in which plastic is reused again and again.
- CEFLEX: 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.
An important partner on the path to improved recycling of waste and the establishment of a circular economy is the social enterprise Plastic Bank. The idea of Plastic Bank is to reduce plastic waste in nature while also providing new opportunities for people in poverty. 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.
What’s to come: Becoming more sustainable
Packaging is constantly changing, driven by innovative new designs and changing consumer expectations. This constant transformation opens up exciting opportunities to minimize the negative environmental impact of packaging. At Henkel, our experts are committed to exploring the possibilities to make packaging more sustainable – protecting the products we love while also offering a better contribution to the planet.