Unilever to introduce paper-based bottles for laundry and hair care goods and expand UK refill trials

Unilever is embarking on a strategy to launch paper bottles to the Brazilian market next year, with plans to roll the ground-breaking new development for the packaging industry out globally in the following months.

The British multi-national consumer goods company will be implementing new technology to launch the first paper-based laundry detergent bottle for its leading brand OMO (also known as Persil, Skip, and Breeze in other global markets) and is scheduled to make its worldwide debut in Brazil next year.

The firm is also piloting the same technology to create paper-based hair care bottles.

Unilever has been working on the technology in partnership with the Pulpex consortium, a collaborative effort between Unilever, Diageo, Pilot Lite, and other industry members. Through the consortium, Unilever has been able to package liquids in first of its kind paper-based bottles made from sustainably sourced pulp. The material is designed to be recycled in the paper waste stream.

The packaging is able to liquid such as laundry detergent, shampoo, and conditioners – which all contain surfactants, fragrances, and other active ingredients – thanks to a proprietary coating that is sprayed on the inside in order to repel water.

The new development has been billed as a ‘promising solution to radically reduce the use of plastic’ and will certainly help Unilever achieve its own commitments to ‘a waste free world.’

Richard Slater, Unilever chief R&D officer, said: “To tackle plastic waste, we need to completely rethink how we design and package products. This requires a drastic change that can only be achieved through industry-wide collaboration. Pulpex paper-based bottle technology is an exciting step in the right direction, and we are delighted to be working together to trial this innovation for our products.

“Innovating with alternative materials is a key part of our sustainable packaging strategy and will play an important role in our commitment to halve our use of virgin plastic materials by 2025.”

Among its commitments to greater sustainability in the next four years, Unilever has said it will aim to half its use of virgin plastic by reducing its use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 tonnes, help collect and process more plastic packaging than it sells, and ensure that 100 per cent of its plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable, or compostable.

Elsewhere, the firm is continuing to take strides in its sustainability measures with the expansion of its refillable packaging trials across the UK, including the first ‘return on the go’ pilot that allows shoppers on the go to pick up a pre-filled stainless steel bottle from a store shelf, and return it in-store once used.

Unilever kicked off its trial in Asda’s sustainability store in Leeds last year, offering customers the chance to refill products in store with stainless steel containers. According to the firm, its success has fueled an expansion of the trial programme to grab-and-go purchases.

Under the expanded trial, bottles will be pre-filled with some of the firm’s most recognisable brands – such as Persil, Simple, Radox, and Alberto Balsam – to be made available at selected Asda and Co-op stores by the end of the year. According to the firm, they will ‘be placed in-aisle to see if integrating fefillable products into usual shopping habits will increase uptake.’

In addition, Unilever will continue to test ‘refill on the go’, where consumers can purchase and refill reusable stainless steel bottles using a standalone refill machine.

These new test-and-learn trials will be the first of their kind at this scale in the UK. The aim is to gain a deeper understanding of the likelihood and habits of consumers using refillable and reusable packaging. They will evaluate different refill models, store formats and in-store locations, as well as different shopper experiences.

“To tackle plastic pollution with the speed and urgency needed, we must create scalable solutions which make it as easy as possible for people to make sustainable choices,” says Unilever UK and Ireland EVP and general manager, Sebastian Munden.

“We believe refills could be a game-changer in our ambitions to halve our use of virgin plastic by 2025; however, unlocking the full potential of the reuse economy requires a shift in mindset of how people shop. We are testing different refill models on a large scale in order to continue to build our understanding of how to enable this change most effectively.”