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

  • Henkel concentrates its efforts to drive progress on three key phases

  • Our contribution to the circularity of industrial products

  • 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.

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

1. Intelligent packaging design and reduction of packaging 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 2021, this share was around 18 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. A survey conducted in 2020, showed that 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.
  • 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 0.1 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 recyclable or reusable by 2025. At the end of 2021, we had achieved this for around 86 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.
  • Refill packaging and reusable systems are also gaining in importance alongside recycling. In addition to new product forms and the use of recyclable and recycled plastics in our packaging, we also use refillable packaging and refill stations where consumers can fill laundry and dishwashing detergents or shampoo into special bottles. When the contents are used up, the packaging can be refilled again.
  • 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 are developing adhesives for this purpose, for example, which are optimized for recycling PET bottles and substantially improve the recycling rate and quality by ensuring that the bottle label can be removed cleanly. We also offer our customers solutions for the innovative redesign of products and packaging. One example of this is our novel EPIX coatings for the development of sustainable and safe food packaging based on paper.
  • 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. 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. Our adhesive solutions contribute to these efforts by facilitating product repair. Our Teroson hotmelt solutions are one example. Using these solutions, headlights can be opened up for lens component repair, such as for replacing an LED module, without damaging the lens or housing. At the end of the value chain, our technologies, such as adhesives that enable material separation in multilayer flexible packaging, support the separation of materials that cannot be recycled 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 is also carrying out pioneering work with 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 packaging and as part of our product formulas. For example, the packaging material of one of our Pattex insulating foams is made from 25 percent recycled steel, and 98 percent post-consumer recycled (PCR) in the cap. Additionally, 16 percent of the ingredients are derived from recycled material.
  • Bio-based adhesives: We have also developed a range of bio-based adhesives. To this end, we are 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 drop-in of renewable carbon-based raw materials into existing processes, it is an important step for a gradual transition to the use of renewable resources. In 2021, 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. 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. 
Local communities in countries without adequate waste management 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 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 1480 metric tons of Social Plastic® have been processed for Henkel since the partnership began in 2017, of which 723 tons of them in 2021.

In 2021, Henkel and Plastic Bank started to expand the recycling infrastructure in Egypt, opening ten collection centers in the Cairo area. This commitment will be steadily expanded over the next few years. By 2023, the goal is for the partners to achieve an annual capacity for 5,000 metric tons of plastic.

Our EasyD4R® software tool for evaluating the recyclability of packaging

In order to quickly and reliably determine the recyclability of new packaging, starting from the product development phase, Henkel has developed the software tool EasyD4R®. This 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 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.

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. 

Innovations for the future

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. Chemical recycling can complement 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.

For many years, black plastic packaging posed a challenge to the recycling value chain due to the colorant that was previously used to make it black. Together with its supplier Ampacet, a global masterbatch producer, Henkel began working on an innovative solution for black plastic packaging that is fully recyclable in 2019. 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.

One of the most pressing challenges on the journey to a circular economy for packaging is the need to improve the sorting of consumer waste through accurate identification. One particularly promising approach here is to capture and decode digital watermarks using a high-resolution camera mounted on the waste sorting system. Depending on the marking that is picked up, the system can then sort the packaging waste into the appropriate categories of material. This would lead to better and more precisely sorted flows of waste, as well as higher quality recycled material. 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.

Refill stations are gaining importance 

Refill packaging and reusable systems are also gaining in importance alongside recycling. In addition to new product forms and the use of recyclable and recycled plastics in our packaging, we also use refillable packaging and refill stations where consumers can fill laundry and dishwashing detergents or shampoo into special bottles. When the contents are used up, the packaging can be refilled again. 

One example of refill stations is the laundry and dishwashing detergents from the Laundry & Home Care brand Love Nature. In stores of several drugstore and supermarket chains, “Mein Spülmittel” and “Mein Waschmittel” can be filled and easily refilled again and again. In 2020, this made Love Nature the first detergent and cleaning brand to offer this service across all retailers in Germany. In 2021, there were a total of 48 refill stations all over Germany. In addition, the bottle bodies are made of 100 percent recycled plastic and can be fully recycled. 

The Beauty Care business unit also uses refill stations. The Beauty Care Professional brand Authentic Beauty Concept offers refill stations in 49 selected hair salons in Europe, including Germany and Austria, as well as in Central Asia. Consumers can also use these refill stations to refill their favourite products again and again in a suitable bottle.