The innovative thinking behind Finish’s new recyclable packaging
As Finish celebrates the launch of its new recyclable product pouch, the team reflect on the market-leading innovations that led to its creation – and some of the major challenges faced along the way.
“With this project coming to life after more than a year, it’s like talking about our baby,” says Krzysztof Krajewski, head of packaging innovation for Finish and Vanish, regarding the launch of Finish’s new readily recyclable plastic pouches.
“It was a long process with many struggles and challenges – so maybe it’s more like a baby elephant!” he adds with a laugh. “But that’s what makes it so exciting that we are launching now.”
The new eco pouches were launched in Germany on May 7 and will be on sale around the world within a year. They have a matte finish and a soft-touch feel compared with the previous glossy, stiff packaging. They also have a more “milky” appearance, which lends itself to lighter colour artwork on the packaging. This carries the proud statement of being “recyclable”, which we know is important to consumers.
Incentive for change
Discussions and research on how to replace the non-recyclable plastic laminates previously used for the packaging of Finish dishwasher tablets kicked off around three years ago. Then, in June 2018, RB published its commitments on plastics and defined its top-priority projects – Finish being one of them. Along with increased public interest in plastics, this added momentum for the project and plans to produce the recyclable pouch were accelerated.
The Finish pouches address the commitment to make 100 per cent of RB’s plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2025, with best-in-class labelling to help consumers recycle effectively. The biggest difference is that the pouches (of which more than 100 million are currently sold each year) no longer use two plastics from different families. The PET-PE laminate of the former packaging, which has been used for more than 10 years, has excellent qualities to protect the product from exposure to oxygen and humidity, thus preserving its shelf life. But once two materials are bonded together permanently – be it two plastics or any other combination of materials – they cannot be recycled.
The possibility of using a single plastic – PE – was known within the industry and Krajewski acknowledges the input of expert partners who shared their knowledge of polymers and now supply the resin used in constructing the pouch.
But there were challenges. The first was to ensure the material could protect the product adequately.
PE provides only a weak barrier against oxygen, so various options around the thickness of the film, the size of the packaging and the zipper that recloses the bag were tested in RB’s laboratories. In particular “ageing tests” were carried out to check the shelf life provided by the new material.
PE is also quite a flimsy material, so changes had to be made to the structure of the pack to deliver the kind of quality feel expected by a consumer.
Another challenge was ensuring Finish’s existing machinery and factories could manufacture the new packaging at scale. Technical issues kept arising. One was around the laser engraving used to mark packs with a “best before” date. With the laminate you could use a laser to burn away the dark outer layer of plastic to expose writing on the white inner layer.
“Every month or so we hit one of these obstacles, which would cause a major red light,” recalls Krajewski, who has a background in mechanical engineering. “We had to come up with a number of small, brilliant solutions along the way.
“For example, we learnt that the old material was very easy to manufacture, while the new material needs very high precision and new processes to control it.”
PE products are widely recyclable in many countries and a report from the environmental services consultants involved in this project says the packaging has “good recyclability” based on an analysis of the German packaging waste system. Finish is now looking at options for adding recycled plastic to its rigid plastic packaging, starting with products such as Finish Quantum Ultimate tubs.
“We have embedded sustainability at the heart of our brand purpose for Finish, due to the significant water savings from using an automatic dishwasher instead of handwashing dishes,” says Dominik Reichenmiller, global brand marketing manager for Finish. “And as the world’s number one brand in automatic dishwasher detergents, we also feel we should lead the industry in transitioning to recyclable plastic pouch bags.”
To bring its purpose to life, Finish recently partnered with National Geographic highlighting water scarcity in Turkey and aiming to raise awareness of the issue and encourage people to save water in the home.