Recycle, refill, rethink – 7 solutions for more sustainable packaging

How Henkel is rethinking packaging

Sustainability Innovation Apr 21, 2022

Here we have compiled seven examples of what sustainable packaging solutions can look like specifically and which current innovations are helping us move forward to a closed circular economy.

1. Product packaging that is 100 percent recyclable

The idea of a circular economy goes far beyond the use of plastic in packaging: We need to change the way we think about resources and turn waste into valuable raw materials.

Sustainable packaging for the Nature Box range from Henkel

With the product packaging of Nature Box, this is already the case. Since 2021, the bodies of the bottles have been made of 100 percent recycled material – so-called Social Plastic®. As the first global consumer goods company, Henkel has been working with the social business Plastic Bank since 2017. The common goal: To reduce plastic waste in the oceans while creating opportunities for people living in poverty. The local population in developing countries collects plastic, which is recycled and becomes part of the value chain again as Social Plastic®.

With the introduction of recycled aluminum tubes for its hair coloration portfolio, Henkel takes another step in promoting sustainable packaging solutions

Recyclable packaging does not always have to be made of plastic. In the case of the hair colorations packaging for our retail and professional brands, such as Diadem or Igora Royal, the aluminum tubes are made of 100 percent recycled material. They are fully recyclable and widely recovered through existing waste management systems. Recycled aluminum requires up to 95 percent less energy than primary aluminum. This results in a significant reduction of the CO2 footprint for each aluminum tube.

2. From liquid to solid – new products allow new packaging

Changing from a liquid product to a solid one offers new possibilities in production and application. Due to the compressed ingredients, solid products – compared to liquid ones are smaller and more efficient. As a result, they allow other forms of packaging: for example, it is possible to switch from plastic bottles to cardboard boxes made of recycled material.

The organic-certified beauty brand N.A.E. has taken further steps towards sustainability with the launch of its new plastic-free product packaging.

With the solid shower care of our natural cosmetics brand N.A.E. ("Naturale Antica Erborista"), for example, one concentrated product offers the same coverage as three liquid wash gels (200 ml each). The reduced weight and volume during transportation also results in lower CO2 emissions. In addition, the paper packaging is made of FSC-certified material and is fully recyclable.

Persil Eco Bars for the e-commerce

Solid detergents – such as Persil Eco Power Bars – also offer consumers ecological benefits. The highly compressed product comes in smaller cardboard packaging that is almost plastic-free. Moreover, fewer emissions are caused during production; and this also applies to transportation: Because of the smaller form and lower weight, more products can be transported on a single truck. Persil Eco Power Bars are currently available in Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

3. Less plastic, more product – saving emissions through refill systems

Refilling at home or directly in-store – with refill pouches, products such as shampoo, soap or dishwashing detergent can easily be refilled at home in the already existing product packaging. This saves new packaging material because the refill bags use less plastic, are easier to transport and thus help reduce emissions. Some products can also be refilled directly at refill stations in drugstores and supermarkets.

Nachfüllstation Love Nature

Laundry and cleaning products from our brand Love Nature can be refilled at almost 50 refill stations in Germany. With this solution, Love Nature was the first detergent and cleaning product brand to offer this service across retailers in Germany in 2020. And what happens when you stop refilling the product? Then, the body of the bottle, which is made of 100 percent recycled plastic, can in turn be fully recycled.

Nachfüllstation der Marke Authentic Beauty Concept

Refill stations also exist in hair salons. With the brand Authentic Beauty Concept by Henkel Beauty Care, salon visitors in Germany, Austria, and other European countries can refill their desired product time and again.

4. Separating materials to bring them together

Disposing of old packaging so that they can be recycled. Sounds simple – but in practice that’s not always the case. Many materials must first be separated so that their individual parts can be repaired or recycled accordingly.

Comprehensive and efficient recycling solutions for industrial customers: Saperatec has developed an innovative, patented technology that among others allows the separation and recycling of flexible packaging that contains aluminum foil.

Solutions from Adhesive Technologies help at the end of the value chain through so-called debonding: materials are separated and then individually recycled or reprocessed. LOCTITE LIOFOL was designed together with the startup Saperatec specifically for recycling. By using this adhesive, multi-layer packaging can be separated without disintegrating them. These individual layers (PE, aluminum and PET) are then sorted and reintroduced to the value chain as high-quality materials that can be used again.

5. Smart design for resource-saving usage

When it comes to sustainable product packaging, it's not only the right material that counts, but also the right design. Smart packaging design can save material or make a sustainable impact by changing the way the product is used. With a pump dispenser that portions the amount of product, resources can be conserved, and emissions reduced.

Pril Stark & Natürlich

With the new "Stark & Natürlich" ("Strong & Natural”), product range from Pril, this is exactly the case. The pump dispenser and refill pouches are the ideal combination for saving resources and the design makes it easy to measure the right amount of detergent. Consumers get the right amount of dishwashing detergent with one pump and can get by for longer with a single bottle. In addition, the body of the dispenser is made of 100 percent recycled plastic.

6. Recycle what was not recyclable before

Not every type of plastic is automatically recyclable. For a long time, black plastic packaging challenged the recycling value chain because of the color used. The optical sensors in recycling plants could not properly identify and sort the black packaging, which meant that it was sorted out as residual waste and then incinerated.

The black Perwoll bottle will also become completely recyclable.

Since 2019, Henkel has been using an alternative black color in its black packaging so that it can be recycled and returned to the value chain. Together with Ampacet, Henkel has taken another important step in implementing its packaging strategy and goals in terms of a circular economy by developing recyclable black plastic packaging.

7. Finding alternatives without compromising

Paper and cardboard are often seen as a sustainable alternative to plastic. However, functionality plays a key role in the use of alternative raw materials – often products made of paper must have the same, if not better, characteristics than conventional materials made of plastic.

The new EPIX product technology platform helps make paper a viable alternative to plastics and other single-use materials.

Adhesive Technologies’ Epix technology gives paper products additional functionalities such as barrier properties, thermal insulation, and resistance to mechanical impact – this helps not only in food packaging or disposables such as paper cups, but also in shipping bags and it can replace plastic.


With the use of the award-winning KeelClip™ for the outer packaging of beverage cans, plastic is replaced by recycled and recyclable cardboard. KeelClip™ was developed by Graphic Packaging International (GPI) and uses Henkel adhesive technologies. This innovative solution can reduce both plastic consumption and CO2 emissions in the packaging life cycle. In addition, the outer packaging is easy to recycle, and it uses significantly less cardboard than most other solutions on the market.

These seven examples are representative of how innovative solutions in the packaging sector changing our approach to packaging. From its design and the recyclability of materials to new products and application features such as refill stations: It is clear that packaging meets complex requirements and a functioning circular economy requires holistic solutions along the value chain.

Related Feature

woman smiling into camera

Throughout our history, we have developed innovative products, optimized our production processes to conserve natural resources and reduce wastes, and have built relationships with the communities we are active in and our partners.

A man in a lab coat with Henkel logo standing in a lab next to a microscope

Anyone who successfully manages brands over generations needs the right balance of tradition and innovation. By understanding change, we can shape the future. This is also reflected in Henkel's corporate purpose: “Pioneers at heart for the good of generations”.