Open Innovation Solution for Plastic Waste Problem

Published Jan-14-19

A plastic-free laundry tablet that could replace single-use sachets.

Unilever, United Kingdom

The Story:

Open Innovation Solution for Plastic Waste Problem All over the world people are generating colossal volumes of plastic trash that ends up littering our oceans, cities and waterways. According to a 2017 study, since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide, but to date, only 9% of that amount has been recycled. The rest does not disappear. Every year up to 12.7 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans. The actions of conscientious individuals, companies and corporations are helping to alleviate some of the problems, but they are nowhere enough.

To stem the tide of plastic polluting our planet radical and innovative solutions are needed. A study released in 2016 by the non-profit Ocean Conservancy said that If we don’t make drastic changes soon, by 2050 our oceans could have more plastic in them than fish.

Rethink Plastic

One organization that is doing its bit to help is Unilever, a consumer goods company that manufacturers numerous household brands including CIF, Domestos and Persil. In 2018 it organized a one-day hackathon for leading designers, innovators and packaging experts. The intention was to find new ways to go plastic-free or waste-free.

During the "Rethink Plastic' 10 hackathon novel solutions emerged. The winning concept of this open innovation event was an innovative laundry tablet called Laundry Fizz that aims to replace the billions of single-use laundry sachets sold every year.

The tablet has a plant-derived coating that protects it against humidity, which is one of the reasons why plastic is used in the first place. It could also be sold in cardboard packaging that can be reused/recycled. Not only will the product be good news for the planet but it's also an affordable solution for low-income consumers in developing markets.

“The scale of the plastic waste issue is getting worse, not better, with the production of plastics expected to double over the next decade,” said Kees Kruythoff, President of Unilever Home Care.

“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.”

Among the other brilliant ideas conceived at the hackathon were ‘laundry on a roll’ – dissolvable sheets of laundry detergent that are eco-friendly, and Care - a hyper-concentrated laundry detergent in a pill format, which is packaged using agricultural waste.

Product Development

The winning team received a €100,000 investment (approx. $USD 114,000) in their plastic-free laundry tablet which will be further developed by Unilever R&D and marketing teams. It will then be trialed in a market that has yet to be selected.

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