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Last week, Unilever announced that it will be introducing paper bottles for its OMO brand by early 2022, in what it claims is a world's first for laundry detergents. The bottles were developed by Pulpex, a consortium that includes various fast-moving consumer goods brands and has created wood pulp-based packaging. The insides of the bottles are sprayed with water-repellant coating to hold liquids without needing a plastic liner, and the bottles can be recycled alongside paper.
Packaging liquid products in paper bottles is tricky. They need to be sturdy enough to withstand transportation, and the paper can't go soggy if stored in damp environments like a laundry room. Unilever is currently running tests to see how well its prototypes perform in real-world situations. After debuting in Brazil, the bottles will roll out to Europe and other countries soon after, with haircare products to follow.
Unilever is responding to growing concerns about plastic waste. While the oil and plastics industries long touted the virtues of recycling — fully aware they were promoting a myth — less than 2% of all plastic produced since the 1950s has been recycled, and consumers are starting to catch on.
In a 2019 survey of consumers in North America, Europe and Asia, "plastics was perceived to be the least environmentally friendly type of packaging, cited by more than three-fourths (77%) of consumers, with paper products perceived to be the most environmentally friendly, cited by 55% of respondents" (though only 37% said environmental impact was their leading consideration when making purchases).
More recently, NYU Stern's Sustainable Market Share Index found that "in approximately 90% of individual product categories, the growth of sustainability-marketed products outpaced the growth of their respective categories."