“Why don’t you make all your packaging reusable?”
We’re completely rethinking the role of plastic in our business. And this is one of the questions we’re asked most frequently. Here’s our response.
We’re making good of ensuring that all our plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable or compostable. Our commitment to remove 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging entirely is also driving a shift in our packaging formats towards reuse and refill solutions.
But we’re often asked why we can’t go further and faster. One question that keeps coming up is about reusability.
We’re looking at how to introduce more reusable packaging. But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The ways in which people buy and use our products vary hugely from market to market, and even within the same market. Finding the right solutions depends on a host of factors. Where they live. How they shop. What they buy. Likewise, different product categories may work better on the go than at home.
Packaging is not just about transport; it also has to deliver on some really important jobs, such as keeping products safe, functional and high quality. Developing reusable packaging which delivers an equal, if not superior, user experience has been a design challenge but we're learning from every insight, and improving and evolving our plans.
We’re doing a lot of work to bring about a refill-reuse revolution as part of our much wider plan to create a circular economy for plastic. We have dedicated teams to accelerate this work and we’re investing in pilot programmes all over the world to find out what works.
We’re encouraging consumers to think of our cleaning and laundry products as a 'bottle for life'. For instance, our Cif spray bottles and our OMO 3-litre laundry bottles which are diluted at home with ultra-concentrated refills.
This allows us to give consumers the same products with much less plastic and conveniently smaller packaging, and they generally cost less to buy than standard size bottles. What’s more, when consumers dilute products at home, we transport far less water. This means fewer trucks on the road and therefore lower carbon emissions associated with the distribution of our products.
In-store, on the go
We’re also trialling in-store dispensing where an ever-increasing number of our brands are available at refill stations. Together with major retailers, we currently have trials running in 11 countries including our largest pilot in Europe: in Asda and Co-op stores in the UK. We also have vending machines in India where consumers can refill bottles of Surf Excel, Comfort and Vim.
Through these pilots, we’re collecting insights on which formats work best. We’re also looking at how we can communicate the environmental savings to encourage consumers to return and refill. Using on-pack QR codes, we can track the lifecycle of the bottle and the number of times it’s used, which we hope will also motivate shoppers to continue to refill and reuse.
Delivering what people really want
We’ve learnt that when it comes to refill-reuse, success depends on tailoring solutions, removing barriers to entry and keeping systems as simple as possible. To support the growth of these new formats, we need to work with consumers, customers, other businesses and governments to create the systems that allow these models to prosper.
Global change needs a whole system behind it. Governments have a critical role to play when it comes to setting standards for these systems and incentivising investment. These factors will have a significant impact on the acceptance and acceleration of reusable and refillable packaging. That’s why, alongside more than 70 other businesses, – based on a circular economy approach – to tackle plastic pollution on a global scale.
Refill and reuse innovation is in its early days. We’re all still learning. But experimenting in real-world conditions has given us a lengthy list of insights – and an even lengthier to-do list. Now we want to build momentum and do everything we can to help bring about a refill-reuse revolution.
Cif ecorefills (1 of 8)
One area we’re trialling is at-home refilling. An example is Cif’s ultra-concentrated refills for its Power & Shine spray bottles, launched in 2019. The refills require 75% less plastic than ordinary packs and are fully recyclable once wrappers have been removed. What’s more, by diluting at home, 97% less water is transported, resulting in 80% fewer trucks on the road. Cif ecorefills started as a pilot in a single market and has since been scaled up across ten markets in Europe, Canada and Australia.
Dove Body Wash Concentrate (2 of 8)
Last month in the US, we launched a whole new concept: Dove’s concentrated body wash with a reusable aluminium bottle. This is a 4x concentrated product that you simply dilute with water at home. The smart formulation uses new, patented technology that thickens when mixed with water. The small refill bottle – which is squeezable, so that all concentrate is easy to get out – is recyclable and made of recycled material. It also uses half the plastic of a standard size bottle.
OMO Concentrate (3 of 8)
OMO came up with a 6x concentrated formula designed to be poured into a standard 3-litre bottle. The packaging uses 70% less plastic, is fully recyclable and contains 50% recycled plastic (with a plan to move to 100%). The product proved a hit with consumers when we launched it in Brazil, and we have since rolled it out to other South American countries as well as markets in the Middle East and Europe. To date, this has removed around 1,500 tonnes of virgin plastic.
Asda UK (4 of 8)
In October 2020, we launched our largest refill trial in Europe with UK retailer Asda. This offers Persil, Radox, Simple and Alberto Balsam in reusable stainless-steel bottles. Uptake exceeded expectations with purchases of Persil a third higher than the equivalent single-use pack. We have expanded the trial to more Asda shops as well as Tesco and Co-op supermarkets. Through these, we’re also testing ‘return on the go’ models, where shoppers can pick up a pre-filled reusable bottle and return it once used.
OMO/Quix Chile (5 of 8)
Shoppers in Chile can top up their OMO and Quix cleaning and laundry bottles with the swipe of a screen. By using a new app, developed by Algramo, consumers order refills that are delivered to their door by electric tricycles. They dispense the amount they need into reusable containers and make a cash-free payment for their order. We’ve learnt that technology is a key enabler for some reuse models, and that using an app allows us to analyse progress and make adjustments quickly. We’ve also expanded our partnership with Algramo to bring refill kiosks to Indonesia.
Dove’s refillable deodorant (6 of 8)
Dove’s refillable deodorant comes in a stainless-steel case that’s designed to last a lifetime, there’s no plastic or paper wrapping, and it’s sold in a box made from recyclable cardboard. The refill packaging is made from 98% recycled plastic. It still requires a small amount of plastic to keep the deodorant fresh and hygienic, but it uses 54% less than a regular stick pack. By 2023, the brand aims to have reduced virgin plastic by up to 160 tonnes and have refills made from 100% recycled plastic.
Indonesia in-store refill station (7 of 8)
Unilever joined forces with Indonesia’s Saruga packaging-free store in Bintaro to launch a refillery with many of our brands so shoppers can buy as much or as little of the product as they want, using their own containers. The list of products on offer at the pilot refill station include Home Care brands Rinso, Molto, Sunlight and Super Pell; Beauty & Personal Care brands Lifebuoy, Clear, Dove, Sunsilk, TRESemmé, and Love Beauty and Planet; and Indonesia’s home-grown sweet soy sauce, Bango.
Japan refill on the go (8 of 8)
In Japan, we started our ‘refill on the go’ journey in February last year with the launch of a roadside refill station for Dove and Lux brands at Saku city, in partnership with a local service provider that was offering mobile distribution of fresh food and groceries. Following its success, we were approached by the local authorities of Shintomi town to set up a similar station there, and we have two further projects in the pipeline, for Ikoma and Shunan cities.