Knorr R&D’s packaging innovation is tackling plastic waste
Every year, we recognise pioneering individuals within the company who have brought our values to life and truly embody what it means to be part of Unilever. Our 2019 Heroes with Impact have gone above and beyond their day-to-day jobs. Their stories paint a picture of passion, purpose and drive.
Around 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Take a walk on any beach and you will see the spectacle of plastic waste. Silent, omnipresent and a threat to wildlife, plastic debris is a universal problem – and it has risen swiftly up the global agenda. Unilever has stepped up its ambitious targets on plastics.
While companies like Unilever are recognising their responsibilities, individuals are also eager to play their part. Atahan Ozgunay, R&D Packaging Manager for Foods & Tea in Turkey, is among them. One of the brands he works with is Knorr. Its dry soups, in particular, are widely enjoyed in Turkey. However, the flexible packaging could not be recycled.
“We need to design our packaging in a way that it can be reused, recycled or get composted,” he says. But developing a recyclable version was technically challenging.
Solving a complex problem
Dry soups have a long shelf life of 18–24 months, so the pack had to be highly protective. And the production processes for making the recyclable packs also had to be within the capabilities of the factory.
To develop a solution, Atahan set up a network of stakeholders including sustainability NGO ÇEVKO, suppliers Jindal and Polinas, local converter Mondi Kalenobel (which manufactures the packaging for us), recycling companies and consumers. By bringing all the parties together, it was possible to understand the wider interests and see the bigger picture.
Atahan also devoted much of his free time to the project. “I really worked with passion,” he says. “And at the end, a light came on and I found something. I immediately shared it with my team.” The solution he identified covered all the bases: a long shelf life, the opportunity for recycling, ease of manufacture and consumer buy-in.
The result was flexible and eco-friendly packs for Knorr soups. Unilever provided the specification to Mondi Kalenobel which produces the new soup packs and the packs are then filled at Unilever’s Besan factory in Istanbul.
The packaging has been formally certified as recyclable. In terms of production, no modification to existing factory lines was required to manufacture the soup packs.
But recycling solutions are only as good as the trust they inspire. Atahan didn’t just see the project as a technical packaging innovation. For him, it was also an opportunity to change consumer attitudes.
This saw him holding a workshop on sustainable packaging claims, working with consumers, marketing teams and agencies to identify the best way to communicate the recyclability message on-pack. And despite the project’s overall complexity, Atahan’s commitment ensured that it was fast-tracked and completed within a year. This meant that in May 2019, the first recyclable Knorr soup packs were launched in Turkey.
Atahan believes that the recyclable flexible pack will make a serious contribution to the circular economy and hopes that the success of the project will inspire other FMCG companies to do the same.