Protecting the product and avoiding waste

Graphic Henkel packaging footprint 2010

High-quality brands require packaging that is capable of fulfilling a number of different functions. The packaging must guarantee that the product remains intact and in a hygienic condition, protect it during transport and storage, and permit easy dispensing and use. In addition, it should provide sufficient space for consumer information. For cosmetic products in particular, but also for laundry detergents and adhesives, the packaging and its design are important factors influencing the purchasing decisions of consumers.

The packaging of our branded consumer products becomes household waste after use. Throughout the Company, therefore, we follow three principles – prevention, reduction, recycling. In concrete terms, this means:

  • Reducing the volume of packaging and the raw materials used
  • Reducing the variety of packaging materials: using the same materials for different types of packaging
  • Use of recyclable materials
  • Informing customers and consumers about the recyclability of the materials used
  • Taking back and reusing packages

We work together closely with our suppliers and customers to reduce packaging volumes throughout the entire product life cycle. Returnable packaging systems in the form of reusable transport containers and secondary packaging, for example, are available for our industrial customers. One example of this is a take-back program for plastic containers used to transport industrial adhesives in the USA, which Henkel initiated jointly with the National Container Group (NCG) in 2010.

We continually improve our product packaging and, where technically feasible, we work toward increasing the proportion of recycling materials across our entire portfolio. The PET bottles for our laundry detergents and household cleaners, for example, contain 25 percent recyclate. We also regularly look for potential uses for new packaging materials such as bioplastics.

We offer consumers dosage aids, concentrates, and refill packs. For example, a variety of refill pouches with formulations in up to three-fold concentrations are available for our Biff, Bref and Sidolin household cleaner brands. In comparison with the original packaging, about 90 percent less plastic is needed for their production. They also reduce water consumption, freight packaging, and transport weight.

Transport packages are developed so that pallets and containers can be optimally packed. The requirements of transport safety and transport capacity utilization impose limits on reductions in transport and secondary packaging. The packaging materials we use must be sturdy in order to ensure that our products are not damaged during transport, and that our trucks and freight cars can be optimally loaded in terms of volume and weight.

Furthermore, intelligent packaging designs also help to reduce the volume of packaging waste for consumers. Our packaging developers strive continuously to use less material without compromising on quality and stability. In Germany alone, we have thus been able to halve the volume of our packaging material since the 1980s.

Photo Persil

When optimizing product packagings, even small steps can have a major impact. In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, for example, our Persil Megaperls laundry detergents are sold in packs for 20, 35 or 50 machine loads to meet the needs of consumers and different household sizes. The 20-wash load pack accounts for 90 percent of all sales. Up to now, this pack size has been offered in cartons and in plastic pouches. An analysis of the packaging materials used showed that the plastic pouch required 80 percent less packaging material than the carton pack. As a result, all Persil Megaperls packs in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were switched to plastic pouches. Through this measure, we save some 1,100 metric tons of packaging material per year.


We also work to progressively increase the proportion of our packaging that can be recycled. We use materials for which public recycling systems exist so that our customers can recycle packaging more easily. Laundry detergents and household cleaners, as well as cosmetics and toiletries, pass into sewage systems after use. They are formulated by Henkel so that their use will not impact on the aquatic environment. Wastewater from industrial applications is pretreated using state-of-the-art technology to remove harmful substances and professionally disposed of.

Global Packaging Project

In 2010, Henkel took part in the Global Packaging Project of the Consumer Goods Forum. The aim of the project is to develop standardized evaluation processes and indicators, with which packaging solutions can be analyzed with regard to their economic, ecological and social impacts. Through its own pilot projects – for example, on assessing the advantages of shelfready packaging concepts of retailers – Henkel was able to contribute approaches to the work of the Forum at an early stage and help to intensify the dialogue between industry and retail partners.

Use of bioplastics in packaging

We regularly look for potential uses for new packaging materials such as bioplastics along the value chain, based on our sustainability criteria. In addition to technical requirements, the overall assessment must include aspects such as availability, competition with food crops, loss of land area, endangerment of soil and water quality, as well as social standards.

A basic distinction has to be made between two different kinds of bioplastics, which have different characteristics and advantages.

Plastics based on renewable raw materials

The polymers in these plastic materials are based on raw materials derived from plants, such as sugar cane or corn. Depending on the material mix and the application, they can deliver the same technical performance as conventional polymers derived from mineral oil, and even offer additional benefits.

They reduce the amount of mineral oil consumed, and hence the associated carbon dioxide emissions. Provided certain conditions are fulfilled (see above), they can constitute a good alternative and offer attractive economic advantages in the long term. Henkel is therefore working hard on developments in this field and regularly checks whether and where the use of such bioplastics would be ecologically and economically worthwhile.

Photo Pritt Ecomfort roller

Pritt Ecomfort roller: The world’s first correction roller with a housing consisting almost 90 percent of a plastic made from plants. For this innovation, Pritt was awarded the Biomaterial Prize 2010.

Biodegradable plastics

Biodegradable plastics can either be based 100% on renewable raw materials or on a combination of these with mineral-oil-based materials. In ideal circumstances, the plant-based materials are produced by organic farming methods, thus allowing them to be broken down into natural constituents again. Unfortunately, biodegradable plastics have not yet been able to satisfy the high standards we set for our packaging materials. One problem is their limited durability. For our personal care products, we guarantee a shelf life of three years in addition to the period after opening. This cannot be achieved with the biodegradable plastics that are currently available. Technical aspects, such as moldability and stability also need to be improved. Other factors speaking against their use as packaging materials for the present are availability on the market and higher costs. Nevertheless, we continue to monitor developments in this sector and are actively searching for suitable materials and potential uses.