British-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever has joined forces with global packaging supplier Mondi to produce a recyclable polypropylene (PP) mono-material pouch in Turkey for the Knorr dry soup powder range. The solution replaces the previous multi-material laminate with a recyclable mono-material film alternative, advancing Unilever further towards its circular economy goals. The new solution will be manufactured at Mondi’s Turkish flexible packaging plant in Kalenobel.
In October, Unilever pledged to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025. The FMCG company aims to reduce its absolute use of plastic packaging by more than 100,000 metric tons, accelerate its use of recycled plastic and scale-up reuse and refill formats. The commitment made Unilever the first major global consumer goods business to promise an absolute plastics reduction across its portfolio.
Unilever approached Mondi Kalenobel in January 2018 with the challenge of developing a recyclable mono-material film for the Knorr brand. The new pouch preserves the shelf-life of the food product and does not impact the runability on the production machines, Mondi confirms. The packaging material is designed by Jindal and certified as recyclable by the Institut cyclos HTP.
The new pouch can be recycled where “suitable recycling infrastructure is in place,” Thomas Kahl, Project Manager for Mondi EcoSolutions, tells, but how far off is a solution that is made from post-consumer recyclate (PCR)?
“Using PCR would be our aim as soon as a food approved quality would be available in the right quality and at scale. At the moment, this is not yet the case. However, we are following the development of the market very closely. For other, non-food applications, Mondi does use PP with recycled content, though,” Kahl explains.
The challenge for Mondi in producing the mono-material solution for Knorr was achieving the necessary oxygen and water vapor barriers and all other physical and chemical tolerances at the same level as the non-recyclable packaging.
Mondi and Unilever collaborated to investigate the most suitable grade of special raw material and Mondi provided ongoing support and counsel during the design and implementation process.
“The most important step in eliminating plastic waste is preventing it getting into the environment in the first place,” says Atahan Özgünay, R&D Package Development Manager for Unilever’s Knorr and Lipton brands in North Africa, Middle East, Turkey and Russia. “That’s why we are committed to collecting and processing more plastic packaging than we sell by 2025. Solutions from innovative partners throughout the value chain, such as Mondi, will help us on this journey.”
“We drive a customer-centric approach at Mondi, Eco-Solutions, where we work with our customers to understand their sustainability goals and deliver packaging that is sustainable by design,” adds Cüneyt Karci, Key Account Manager for Mondi Kalenobel.
The new packaging solution has been introduced to the Turkish market for selected Knorr designs and Unilever says it is now considering expanding this packaging solution to other product ranges from the brand.
Project circular economy
This drive to find new packaging solutions is part of Unilever's commitment that 100 percent of the plastic packaging used in its products is reusable, recyclable and compostable by 2025. With this goal in mind, Unilever has unveiled numerous novel and more sustainable packaging concepts across its brands in recent times.
Last summer, Carte d’Or ice cream switched from plastic to compostable paperboard packaging by Stora Enso in Italy, B-Better launched a range of on-trend water beverages in SIG’s aseptic combidome bottle-shaped carton, and Nestlé YES! snack bars became “the first confectionary bar on the market” to be packaged in paper using a high-speed flow wrap technology.
Hot on the reusability trail, Unilever launched Cif ecorefill – a new at-home technology that allows consumers to refill and reuse their Cif spray bottles “for life” in July. In November, Hellmann’s teamed up with food delivery service Just Eat to trial a range of condiments in Notpla’s seaweed-based biodegradable sauce sachets.
In September, the best before date on some of Unilever’s products under the Knorr and Hellmann’s brands started to use the Danish phrase for “often good after” in a bid to cut food waste. The three Knorr rice noodle mini-meals launched in Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway were the first Unilever products labeled with this text.