Packaging for Cleaning Products

How it is changing to become increasingly sustainable.
Reflections on the detergent sector in Italy, based on a study* promoted by Conai, in partnership with Assocasa/Federchimica. The research represents an exemplary contribution to the promotion of a shared culture of sustainability by investigating motivations, typologies and impact of specific preventive action in the field of detergent packaging. What emerges is a complex and evolving picture, reflecting an industry that, beyond stereotypes and commonplaces, is taking decisive action for the safeguarding of people and the environment.
Luciana Guidotti

* “Preventive action in the detergent packaging sector”. Study conducted by Conai (Consortium for the recovery of packaging), in partnership with Assocasa/Federchimica. Copyright©2017 Prometeia.  

The history of modern consumer habits is inextricably tied to that of «cleaning products, which have constituted one of the founding myths of consumer society. Indeed, entire generations of manufacturers, marketers and industries have dedicated great efforts to the “cult of cleanliness”. This cult would certainly never have achieved its current status of respectability had it not been rendered visible and tangible – had it not been raised from a simple, abstract concept of hygiene to an embodied form as detergents, powders, liquids, creams, gels, a form that has made palpable the metaphor and even the very spirit of the thing».[1]
Detergent packaging has thus served an undisputed function of “certifying” a myth. This is why, by recognizing its social value but, aboveall by researching  into its evolution in the light of the problems associated with manufacture, reuse, recycling and environmental impact, one can offer a shining example to all the industrial supply chains, called upon to share the efforts to make the production process evermore efficient and, at the same time, reinforce sustainability policies.

This principle is the inspiration behind the research carried out by Prometeia on behalf of Conai and with the collaboration of Assocasa/Federchimica, which identifies the preventive actions applied to the packaging adopted by detergent manufacturers.
Moreover, the context of the research is especially stimulating in light of the sociological connections mentioned above and the propensity of this industry for changing perspectives, involving the various actors of its supply chain in the development of innovative packaging solutions, always of course in the interest of consumer safety.

As a matter of fact, over time detergent products have evolved and multiplied, offering new modes of use and consumption, from powder and liquid soaps to concentrates, abrasive creams and degreasers. The packaging has evolved accordingly in order to guarantee greater sustainability, on one hand, and, on the other, more conscientious and informed consumer habits, thanks to highly functional and innovative service features (refills, safety caps, dosers, triggers, explanatory labels, etc.).

[1] Sonia Pedrazzini and Marco Senaldi, impackt, 2/2003, Edizioni Dativo Srl

Notes on the detergent market and research goals
The domestic and professional detergent sector in Italy consists in over 440 enterprises, employing some 6,000 people and producing goods worth 3 billion euro (approximately 6% of the Italian chemical product sector).
In 2016, sales in the domestic market amounted to 3.6 billion euro, 91% of which attributable to detergents for the home (according surveys by Nielsen), while the remaining 9% is represented by professional detergents (Prometeia estimates).

In the household segment, detergents for laundry (machine and hand wash), dishes, floors, etc. make up the largest category, with 1.9 billion euro in sales, followed by washing additives at a distant second (fabric softeners, bleach, limescale removers, etc.) with 742 million euro in products sold nationwide.
Faced with this situation, Prometeia developed a qualitative/quantitative research apparatus to analyze the sector, taking into consideration the various phases of the packaging’s life cycle, from design and production through to packaging and logistics.

The approach was based on a few key concepts, the so-called “Conai catalysts”, which together sum up the concept of prevention: reuse, saving on raw material, logistical optimization, facilitation of recycling, use of recycled materials, packaging simplification and production process optimization. Prometeia then sent a questionnaire to a sample of concerns that together account for over 40% of sales in the Italian market (by value). Based on the responses to this questionnaire, the nature and intensity of actions carried out in the sector to reduce the environmental impact of packaging were then identified.
It was found that, during the last ten years, manufacturers have focused their efforts on packaging design and logistics.

Prevention guides innovation of products and packaging
Reduction of overall packaging weight and use of recycled materials are among  the actions to lower the consumption of raw materials: and these have been the strategies followed in order to optimize the production of detergent containers. This packaging type has been redesigned over the years in accordance with the changing formulas of the products themselves. A key factor in this sense has been the development of concentrate products, which enable the consumer to carry out the same number of washes with a smaller quantity of detergent (thereby also offering the consumer a cost-saving solution).

The first and most clearly evident result of this redesign has been the rise of the smaller format containers suitable for concentrate products, which in practice means a lowered consumption of material and a reduction of the primary packaging weight, which in turn reduces the weight of the secondary packaging required for handling, as well as an optimization of transport, with clear economic and logistical advantages.  Emblematic in this regard is the case of liquid detergents for machine washing, which represents approximately one third of this segment’s sales in the Italian market, and in which the rise of concentrate formulas has led to outstanding environmental and economic benefits.

The right choices are good for the environment
Relations with packaging suppliers remains crucial for the detergent industry, as the former are asked to share these new packaging design and production choices in planning operations.
This cooperation is all the more necessary in light of constant investments by concerns in updating their machine pools in order to make packaging processes increasingly efficient, optimizing filling and significantly reducing defects and discarded units.
Systematic preventive action on detergent packaging has had a variety of positive repercussions not only for the environment, but also for the concerns themselves, at which various business functions, from R&D to marketing and production, are tasked with defining the specific packaging techniques.

Objective safety
Detersives are part of the category of chemical products, broadly regulated and subject to controls from the competent authorities.
Regulation 1907 /2006 REACH Lays down the registration, the evaluation and if need be the authorisation of all chemical substances produced or placed on the European market.
Regulation 1272/2008 CLP Applies to substances that are dangerous on their own or in mixtures, determining the classification and the labeling. It also bears indications in regard to the packaging, that allows a safe usage.
Detergent Regulation 648/2004 Imposes the complete biodegradability of all the surfactants used by the detersives and by similar products, as well as a limitation of the phosphorous contents in products for the laundry and dishwashers.
Biocide Regulation 528/2012 A more restrictive standard for some types of products (disinfectants, insecticides, insect repellents and rodendicides). ...back

One of the purposes of Conai (Consorzio Nazionale Imballaggi) is supporting businesses in promoting actions aimed at reducing the environmental impact of packaging by improving sustainability throughout its life cycle. With this in mind, Conai supplies useful tools for making increasingly eco-compatible packaging that can take on a leading role in an economic system that regenerates itself according to the principles of circular economy, in which the “prevention factor” sustains innovation of products and processes.

“Preventing packaging’s environmental impact” represents a complex and multifaceted topic, one involving all actors of the supply chain in the name of shared responsibility: producers of raw materials and packaging, packaging users, and the consumers themselves, who are tasked with conscientiously managing packaging waste in the home (this step is fundamental to making possible the recovery, disposal or reuse of the materials in question).

Indeed, minimizing impact means taking into consideration the packaging’s entire life cycle. It’s not enough to assess the effects directly tied to production and use. It is necessary, rather, to include decisive factors such as distribution and post-consumption management, with no compromising on the regulatory compliance, performance and functionality that the packaging must guarantee (first and foremost protecting the contents).                                                                                                                ...back


Whiter than white!
The duty and the pleasure of cleanliness, a brief story of “social detergency”.

Main characters: laundry and homecare products that have always performed primary and indispensable functions for the daily wellbeing of each and every one of us and hence connected to our intimate living habits.



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