This week, more momentum on the anti-plastic front: Unilever will develop a crowdsourced, plastic-free laundry solution to combat single-use sachets; while Stora Enso and Sulapac are developing renewable drinking straws.
Unilever to invest €100K in crowdsourced alternative to plastic packaging
CPG giant Unilever has announced that it will invest €100,000 in a new, plastic-free laundry tablet — a crowdsourced innovation that has the potential to replace single-use sachets of laundry powder, a popular format for laundry detergents in the developing world that is problematic in terms of plastic waste.
The chosen idea was one of 10 new solutions to emerge from Unilever’s “Rethink Plastic” Hackathon, a one-day event that brought together Unilever teams with leading designers, innovators, venture capital and packaging experts. The Hackathon was hosted in partnership with One Young World — the premier global forum that connects young leaders to create lasting positive change around the world; and A Plastic Planet, an international campaign with a single goal to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap.
The winning concept, a laundry tablet, aims to replace the billions of single-use laundry sachets sold every year to provide an affordable solution for low-income consumers in developing markets. The innovation resides in an affordable, plant-derived coating that protects each tablet against humidity — one of the main reasons for using plastic packaging in the first place. The tablet will be further developed before being trialed in a suitable market.
The winning team presents its idea for a plastic-free laundry tablet | Image credit: Unilever
Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever Home Care, said: “Addressing [the plastic waste] issue is the shared responsibility of all stakeholders in the value chain. However, as a major player in the consumer goods industry, we are aware that our response is critical in setting the pace of change. This hackathon is part of our broader work with leading experts and innovators to redesign our packaging and work with the wider industry to accelerate the systemic change that is so urgently needed.”
Sian Sutherland, Co-founder of A Plastic Planet added: “The fact that a huge multinational like Unilever is taking the issue of plastic pollution and solutions seriously is a strong message to all industry worldwide. Those businesses that do not seek to change and reduce their plastic usage will not survive.”
All of the innovations from the event were open-source, to maximise potential market opportunities and help scale impact. Other highly commended solutions included a detergent subscription model, using attractive ceramic or glass bottles; and ‘Laundry on a roll’ — dissolvable sheets of fabric detergent. Unilever teams will further explore all ideas submitted on the day.
This investment is part of a series of efforts taken by Unilever to reduce its plastic footprint globally. In 2017, the company made an industry-leading commitment to ensure that all its plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. To help create an end market for this material, the company also committed to increase the recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25 percent by 2025. These targets are driving real change in the business — in particular how packaging is designed for recyclability and reuse.
This isn’t Unilever’s first effort to address sachet waste — last year, the company teamed up with Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV to develop the CreaSolv Process, a groundbreaking new process during which the plastic is recovered from sachets and used to create new sachets for Unilever products. Unilever is testing the long-term commercial viability of the technology at a pilot plant in Indonesia.
Unilever has recently joined a number of collaborative efforts towards driving system-wide packaging solutions, on its way to making 100 percent of its plastic packaging fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025: In October, the company and a host of other CPG giants collectively pledged US$100 million in funding to Circulate Capital, an investment firm that incubates and finances waste management solutions and infrastructure to address the ocean plastic crisis; and announced a three-year partnership with Veolia to improve waste collection and recycling infrastructure across various geographies, starting in India and Indonesia. Last month, Unilever became a founding signatory of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, which brings together stakeholders across all sectors to create a circular economy for plastic. Unilever is also a signatory to the UK Plastic Pact, a similar initiative aimed at tackling plastic waste and transforming the UK’s plastics system.
Stora Enso, Sulapac join forces to develop renewable, biodegradable straws
Meanwhile, Finnish packaging innovators Stora Enso and Sulapac have partnered to develop a sustainable alternative to another problematic plastic product: Straws. Earlier this week in Helsinki, the two partnered on a demo for renewable drinking straws at Slush 2018 — a leading startup event that gathers 20,000 tech enthusiasts from around the world. The straws are based on Sulapac’s biocomposite material — made of wood and natural binders — designed to be recycled via industrial composting and biodegrade in marine environments.
Image credit: Sulapac
“Today, we proudly announce that we are launching a demo for a recyclable, microplastic-free and marine biodegradable straw — the world’s most sustainable straw that can be produced on an industrial scale — and we have jointly developed it with Stora Enso,” says Sulapac founder and CEO Suvi Haimi. “Billions of plastic straws are produced and used every week. This straw has the potential to be a true game changer.”
Stora Enso signed a joint development agreement with Sulapac in May to license its materials and technology. The development of the demo straw is a collaboration between the two companies — a cooperation which complements Stora Enso’s extensive biocomposite portfolio.
“Eco-awareness is a strong driver for consumer demand, and our customers want help in replacing non-renewable materials,” says Hannu Kasurinen, SVP Head of Liquid Packaging and Carton Board. “Different biocomposite solutions, such as renewable caps and closures and straws will be add-ons and a complement to our own consumer board portfolio, bringing additional value to our customers.”
Sulapac’s material works in existing extrusion lines; the goal is to have the straws commercially available by the second quarter of 2019.