Unilever has announced that it will invest in a new plastic free laundry tablet. The crowdsourced innovation has the potential to replace single use sachets of laundry powder, a popular format for laundry detergents in the developing world that is problematic in terms of plastic waste.
The chosen idea was one of 10 new solutions to emerge from Unilever's ‘Rethink Plastic’ hackathon, a one day event that brought together Unilever teams with leading designers, innovators, venture capital and packaging experts. The hackathon was hosted in partnership with One Young World, the premier global forum that connects young leaders to create lasting positive change around the world, and A Plastic Planet, an international campaign with a single goal to ignite and inspire the world to turn off the plastic tap.
The winning concept, an innovative laundry tablet, aims to replace the billions of single use laundry sachets sold every year to provide an affordable solution for low income consumers in developing markets.
The innovation resides in an affordable plant derived coating that protects each tablet against humidity, one of the main reasons for using plastic packaging in the first place. The tablet will be further developed before being trialled in a suitable market.
Kees Kruythoff, 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.’
Commenting on the hackathon, Kate Robertson, Co-founder of One Young World, said: ‘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 all of the ideas from this hackathon.’
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 industry worldwide. Those businesses that do not seek to change and reduce their plastic usage will not survive.’
All the innovations from the event were open source, to maximise potential market opportunities and help scale up impact. Other highly commended solutions included a detergent subscription model using attractive ceramic or glass bottles, and 'laundry on a roll', dissolvable sheets of fabric detergent that are convenient and environmentally friendly. Unilever teams will further explore all ideas submitted on the day.
This investment is part of a series of efforts taken by Unilever to reduce its plastic footprint globally. In 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. To help create an end market for this material, the company also committed to increase the recycled plastic content in its packaging to at least 25% by 2025. These targets are driving real change in the business – in particular how packaging is designed for recyclability and reuse.
In the UK, Unilever is a signatory to the UK Plastic Pact.