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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - SOLIMER (Low cost, water Soluble, Injection Moulded polyvinyl alcohol polymer for laundry detergent capsules)


Challenge: Water-soluble polymers are used in a wide range of applications, primarily in single use packaging. Current polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) cast films being hygroscopic require water and oxygen barrier secondary packaging, leading to expensive advanced packaging...


Challenge: Water-soluble polymers are used in a wide range of applications, primarily in single use packaging. Current polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) cast films being hygroscopic require water and oxygen barrier secondary packaging, leading to expensive advanced packaging requirements, being difficult to recycle.

One key application area is Machine-Dishwash detergent, primary and secondary packaging. The challenge of the manufacturer is meeting growing demand from retailers and consumers to provide detergent capsules meeting increasingly strict safety and environmental standards whilst reducing plastic packaging. A simultaneous driver for this change has been stricter legislation, requiring use of recycled polymers for packaging and other products.

Current soluble polymer products (detergents) are expensive due to high PVOH content, being highly hygroscopic they require multi-layered barrier protective packaging. New popular eco wash cycles can lead to incomplete dissolution and poor cleaning performance using traditional technology. Additionally, consumers are becoming very price conscious when purchasing what is a significant household product expenditure, creating pressure on detergent manufacturers to provide cheaper, more effective solutions.

Opportunity: our patented PVOH formulation incorporates a high sodium chloride content, resulting in a lower price per kg, increased solubility rates, improved stabilisation to atmospheric water, with 40% advancement in moulding time, reducing manufacturing costs.

Target market is the Machine-Dishwash packaging subsector of the £336m water-soluble PVOH film market, of which the consumer segment accounts for nearly 59%. Market penetration will be gained initially working with Company X for a product launch in the UK prior to a new Machine-Dishwash format launch across Europe thereafter.

Our overall objectives are to utilise our formulations to make both primary and secondary detergent packaging, eliminating the requirement for expensive barrier secondary packaging, and introduce the disposal of secondary packaging with additional cleaning function in a household dishwasher.

Our product offers a credible and viable alternative to current polymer films. Our concept has been tested and validated in the detergent market with Company X, with superior resistance to atmospheric humidity up to 85RH, with very encouraging early interest in our beta version.

To fully maximise the potential of our product, we must further develop the polymer to include additional benefits to the user. Providing an added cleaning function for the secondary packaging - active cleaning agents released when the secondary packaging is dissolved in a Machine-Dishwash Cleaning cycle, ensuring this self-removing packaging conforms to customer requirements. Self-removing packaging will open markets for other applications in the detergent sector.

Work performed

The work covered during this project has been a combination of developing the business plan and technical development.

The business plan includes a competitor analysis highlighting a gap in the market for this innovative technology. Fulfilling this requirement with commercially competitive pricing to facilitate affordability of this technology from niche to mainstream consumer goods.

The study focused upon target customers in laundry and the machine-dishwash market, highlighting the key players’ current market worth and future annual growth.

A customer survey was conducted to help understand the purchasing habits of the consumer. The survey was conducted by TWI in accordance with GDPR with support from Brilliant Basics Consulting, a specialist in business to consumer and strategic brand management.

The survey was composed of 10 questions, covering aspects from shopping habits to interest in the SOLIMER product. This was targeted at the dishwasher detergent sector. 69 responses were received over a two-week period from a variety of customer profiles within the UK. The majority were from southern regions of the UK and all respondents were within the working age category (25-70). The most important factors to consumers are cleaning performance, price and recyclable packaging. This is insightful as it shows consumers have an interest in reducing their level of waste, making SOLIMER an attractive product.

When the respondents were introduced to SOLIMER they rated the factors that were important to them. The top 4 most important are; unbeatable clean, zero packaging waste, zero landfill and biodegradable dissolvable container. The least important factors were available online and container embedded with dishwasher cleaner. This was the key finding from the survey, as one of the core innovations is the machine cleaning capability of the product. What consumers are more interested in is the zero packaging waste rather than the secondary purpose. 94% of respondents said they would purchase SOLIMER, with 25% stating definitely, 38% probably and 31% might.

Technical developments consisted of improvements to PVOH formulations for stability and dissolution to be used for both primary and secondary packaging. 1000 units have been successfully moulded filled and tested. Partnerships have been formed to design both primary and secondary packaging. Existing partners have demonstrated compatible detergent formulation and supply with ability to fill, seal and pack detergent prototype capsules.

In conclusion, the market survey demonstrates a demand for this technology and the current team has validated both the process and technology at prototype level.

Final results

The proliferation of plastic waste in our seas coupled with reduced opportunities for overseas recycling means that more environmentally friendly alternatives need to be introduced. This project will contribute to the growth of the EU soluble and biodegradable plastic sector bringing innovation in the manufacturing processes and has the potential to simultaneously provide jobs, drive research and innovation, promote the efficient use of resources and contribute to sustainable economic growth.

ECONOMIC: The project will give us and other EU manufacturers a competitive advantage to rapidly produce and commercialise innovative products that comply with European Standards and, because of complex production issues and low yields, are currently not commercially viable. The project will contribute to the growth of domestic production of biodegradable polymers, contributing towards an estimated £1.92 billion of gross value added to the UK economy by 2020 (BBIA-CEBR-Report, 2015). A further crucial benefit is the solubility in water and digestibility in water treatment plants.

ENVIRONMENTAL: annual packaging plastic waste arising in the EU was estimated to be 15.8m tonnes in 2018 (Eurostat). Sir David Attenborough highlighted plastic pollution in our oceans with the high-profile films Blue Planet and A Plastic Ocean. Recent growth in public awareness has highlighted the need to find a solution to plastic waste, of which the project addresses. Proposed technology conforms with EN 13432 and therefore will not bioaccumulate in soil or water courses.

The development of primary and secondary packaging materials will use biodegradable polymer substrates as a carbon-based microbial food source (functional and multi-functional materials). This substrate requires up to 70% less energy than conventional polyolefin packaging materials during its manufacture (compounding) and will self-remove (biodegrade) from the waste stream. Furthermore, developments will permit low temperature wash ingredients to be used reducing the environmental impact throughout the product manufacture and use lifecycle (saving 136.5kt of CO2 PA).

SOCIAL: Our growth plan includes a manufacturing facility, employing 23 people within 3 years of project commercialisation and a development team maintaining high value R&D employment within the UK, with intended expansion in Europe.
Self-removing packaging with a cleaning function encourages consumer technology awareness, involvement and buy in, increasing consumer demand in other product areas (soluble cotton buds/ tooth flossers).
Removing the requirement for traditional recycling and waste disposal, which directly reduces kerbside collection and associated transport requirements and diversion from landfill (£10.4M PA Social Carbon Cost savings).

Website & more info

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