At the end of last year, cleaning product manufacturer Ecover unveiled a bold new packaging redesign that uses 100% PCR PET for the body of its bottle and 50% PCR content for its cap. We spoke with the company to learn more about this solution, a finalist in our 2020 Sustainability Awards.

Could you please introduce your successful entry and what’s innovative about it?

We approached this holistic restage of our Ecover Fabric Care range, consisting of several laundry liquids and fabric softeners, with sustainability as a guiding principle. That means we started the whole design process with a consideration of the materials we would use and the suppliers we would work with. Using 100% PCR PET for the clear bottles was a must. And we're extremely proud to have managed to include 50% PCR content into the PP caps as well.

Throughout the development phase, we trialed several designs to find the one that would allow us to use as little material as possible while ensuring reliable processability, good consumer handling, and mess-free refilling. We also made sure the packaging can be emptied easily as well as be recycled and recovered at its end of life.

The result is a simple design that not only feels refreshed, honest, and approachable, but reinforces the brand positioning “boldly transparent, defiantly clean.”

What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and what impact do you hope it will make?

Facing up to the world’s over-reliance on single-use plastic. We want to be a role model to show the way forward for manufacturers like us to use better, more sustainable types of plastic and reduce the carbon footprint.

To do this, we need to “close the loop” by recovering and reusing as much material as possible and not letting it go to waste. Our long-term ambition is to stop using virgin plastic entirely. We also aim to always design our packaging for easy refill and recycling.

With this project, we managed to achieve an overall reduction in plastic of 9.6% compared to our previous packaging, with the exact number depending on the bottle size. Therefore, the redesign will save about 56 tonnes of plastic per year based on our sales volume in 2019 and will result in CO2 savings of about 318 tonnes per year across the EU business. Let’s live clean!

‘Sustainability’ in packaging is multi-dimensional – both in terms of objectives and challenges. Could you comment on the most important roadblocks you identify from your position in the value chain, and the kinds of solutions you would like to see addressing them (e.g. areas of technological innovation, collaboration, regulation)?

A big challenge, especially when it comes to plastics other than PET, is a guaranteed and sufficient supply of good quality PCR resin that meets all technical and legal requirements. As for most, the long-term experience is still sketchy, going with high percentages or even a 100% PCR resin is fraught with risk.

And when it comes to being widely accepted, the optical aspects play a big role as well. Last but not least, recycled materials tend to come with a high on-cost. Unfortunately, linked to the COVID-19 crisis, the availability of PCR material has dropped drastically, forcing us to temporarily switch some of our packaging back to virgin material to ensure stock.

Another roadblock is the complexity and variation of the different recycling streams within Europe or even within the same country. This has consumers confused and frustrated and often leads to packaging getting recycled wrongly or not at all, even though it possibly could be. It's important that all partners along the value-chain come together and work hand-in-hand on simplifying and harmonizing the recycling process while pushing for new technologies.