Unilever invests in plastic-free laundry tablet

Unilever, global manufacturer of multiple household brands such as Persil, CIF and Domestos, has announced it will be investing €100,000 (£88,974) in a crowdsourced solution as part of its push to rethink plastic packaging.

Unilever invests in plastic-free laundry tablet
Unilever is investing in a non-plastic laundry tablet to replace plastic coated sachets (above)
Unilever has plans to develop and pilot a plastic-free laundry tablet to challenge the widely used single-use sachets, which hold laundry powder in non-biodegradable plastic packaging.

The solution was developed during Unilever’s ‘Rethink Plastic’ Hackathon, hosted in partnership with One Young World, a UK-based global forum connecting young leaders and thinkers, and A Plastic Planet, an international campaign with a single goal: to get the world to turn off the plastic tap.

The chosen concept was one of 10 new solutions that emerged from the Hackathon, and aims to replace the billions of single-use laundry sachets sold every year, whilst remaining an affordable solution for low-income consumers. The idea involves a plant-derived coating that protects each tablet against humidity – a quality that is also the primary benefit of plastic packaging. The tablet will be developed before being trialled in a suitable market.

Kees Kruthoff, President of Unilever Home Care, said: “The scale of the plastic waste issue is getting worse, not better, with the production of plastics expected to double over the next decade. Addressing this 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.”

Unilever invests in plastic-free laundry tablet
The 'Rethink Plastic' Hackathon took place at the end of November

Kate Robertson, Co-founder of One Young World, also commented on the Hackathon and its potential to impact plastic debris: “The impact of plastic waste on our planet is disastrous; we need to highlight the importance of creating plastic-free solutions that can be replicated across industries and markets. This Hackathon is a great example of where innovative young leaders are able to showcase their abilities in bringing solutions to the table and utilising the power businesses hold in implementing change. I am really excited by the plastic free laundry detergent, along with the other ideas from this Hackathon.”

Aside from the plastic-free laundry tablet, Unilever will also be looking into developing the other nine solutions put forward. For instance, a detergent subscription model was suggested, using attractive ceramic or glass bottles, as were dissolvable sheets of fabric detergent, coined ‘Laundry on a roll’, a concept which is both convenient and sustainable.

All the innovations from the event were open-source, so that potential market opportunities could be maximised, which would help scale up impact.

Unilever’s long term mission

The investment is part of a long-term effort by Unilever to reduce its plastic footprint globally. In January 2017, the company made a commitment to ensure that all its plastic packaging will be designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Then in April 2018, Unilever became a member of the UK Plastic Pact, whereby all signatories must agree to the same commitment of revolutionising their plastic packaging.

A commitment between governments, businesses, local authorities, NGOs and citizens to transform the plastics industry by 2025, signatories of the Plastic Pact also agreed to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging through redesign, to ensure 70 per cent of plastic packaging is recycled and to have a 30 per cent average recycled content across all plastic packaging.

Unilever has also been proactive in tackling waste management; in October, Unilever announced a three-year partnership with waste management company Veolia, to improve waste collection and recycling infrastructure to help create a circular economy for plastics waste across various countries.

Read more: UK businesses unite to turn waste to wealth

In the same month, Unilever collectively pledged $100 million (£78.3 million) in funding to Circulate Capital, an investment firm that finances waste management solutions and infrastructure. Together with Unilever, it has set to work to design a lasting system change needed to address the ocean plastic crisis.

In November 2018, Unilever became a signatory of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastic Economy Global Commitment, in collaboration with UN Environment, uniting a range of organisations and stakeholders to provide guidance on how to implement a plastic circular economy.

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 industries worldwide. Those businesses that do not seek to change and reduce their plastic usage will not survive.”

To find out more about Unilever’s sustainable plans, visit the company’s website.

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