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Future of Washing: Sustainable Laundry Part 5 – Perspectives on Detergent Containers

The Future of Washing Initiative held its 5th seminar, “Future of Washing- from the Perspective of Detergent Containers,” on 25 June 2021. The seminar was moderated by Dr. Yohei Kaneko, ESG Division, Kao Corporation, and discussed the concept of circular economy, the importance of system transformation, as well as the efforts of a corporate alliance to reduce plastic waste and the current development of paper containers. 

Academic Presentations

The seminar was kicked-off by Dr. Fumiko Kasuga, Executive Director of the Future Earth Japan Hub. She explained the objectives and past activities of the Future of Washing Initiative, which was established in December 2018. Dr. Kasuga introduced the objectives and past activities of the Future of Washing Initiative, since its launch in December 2018. In addition, she explained that the Initiative has been searching for models of sustainable washing by considering various environmental and social aspects—including, the use of water and energy, and the declining Japanese birthrate and aging population. She also stated that the cultural environment should be considered for sustainable washing, including differences in cleanliness values and countries’ washing conditions. Dr. Kasuga also explained the details of the four seminars held so far.

Next, Dr. Tomohiro Tasaki, Head of Material Cycles and Social Systems Research Section, Material Cycles Division, National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), gave a presentation on “Sustainable Material Cycles and Containers.” Dr. Tasaki explained that people are entering an era where they need to fundamentally solve environmental, social, and economic issues, and that the efforts for material cycles need to go beyond the 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle). Dr. Tasaki also pointed out the need of system transformation based on the circular economy. In addition, he stated that each effort needs to take into consideration the entire life cycle to overcome the fragmentation of subsystems. Dr. Tasaki also stated that, in Japan, the coordination function among the four subsystems (resource extraction, resource utilization, waste treatment, and recycling and reuse) is weak and causing a structural issue. Dr. Tasaki also introduced criteria for sustainable containers, by using examples from Australia. 

Next, Mr. Koichi Yanagita, General Technical Manager, Japan Clean Ocean Material Alliance (CLOMA), gave a presentation on “Corporate Alliance Initiatives to Address the Problem of Marine Plastics.” CLOMA, established in January 2019, is an alliance led by private companies that aims to eliminate plastic waste from the ocean, by working together with consumers and society to ensure the recycling of plastics. CLOMA is a public-private partnership that started with 159 companies and organizations, and has expanded to 419, as of May 2021. CLOMA works with the supply chain, including governments, NGOs, research institutions, finance institutions, consumers, and private companies. Mr. Yanagita explained that CLOMA does not work with separate divisions, such as manufacturing and sales, but rather emphasizes the importance of having various actors work together. CLOMA’s mid- to long-term plan aims to achieve 100% recycling of plastic containers and packaging, by 2050, and is currently building milestones to achieve this goal. Mr. Yanagita also explained that CLOMA is planning to disseminate these activities to the world as a Japanese model solution, by working with international alliances and organizations.

Lastly, Mr. Takaharu Noda, Manager, Paper-Pak Sales Division, Nippon Paper Industries Co., Ltd., gave a presentation on the theme of “Characteristics and Development of Paper Materials for Containers and Packaging.” First, he introduced paper as an environmentally friendly material in terms of material cycle, product cycle, and carbon cycle. Mr. Noda explained that the resource cycle can be achieved through sustainable forest management, and the product cycle can be achieved by reusing paper products after use through manufacturing pulp and recycling them into paper products. As for the carbon cycle, he explained that can be achieved by absorbing carbon dioxide while plants grow. He also pointed out that while paper material has the advantage of being environmentally friendly, it also has the disadvantage of having a limited functionality. In order to replace plastic, it is necessary to combine it with other materials to provide enough functionality, such as coating, and change the way they are used. Mr. Noda gave an example of a product called SPOPS, which is a paper pack cartridge that can be refilled and replaced. Since the main material is paper, rather than petroleum, the amount of single-use plastic can be reduced by 25 to 40 percent compared to plastic refill pouches. On the other hand, he pointed out that there are some issues with paper packages that are not recyclable, such as paper with food residue or paper laminated with plastic. In addition, Mr. Noda stated that we are entering an era of collaboration, rather than competition, and that cooperation with people from different sectors is essential to realizing and expanding the possibilities for sustainable packaging.

Panel Discussion

Based on the three presentations, a panel discussion was led by Dr. Yasunori Kikuchi, Associate Professor in the Institute for Future Initiatives at The University of Tokyo. Ms. Mana Saza, Master’s student, University College London Sustainable Development, joined as a youth representative. 

Organizational Governance for Sustainability

First, Ms. Saza asked about the governance system for sustainability within corporate organizations. Mr. Noda stated that the company working to promote sustainability, but whether every employee cares about sustainability in their daily work is a different issue. He also stated that there are activities to raise employees’ awareness for sustainability, such as in-house training to analyze the relationship between their individual work and the Sustainable Development Goals. Mr. Yanagita stated that there are many companies making progressive efforts for sustainability. Although there are differences in speed among different companies in promoting sustainability within their business, there is an impression that those efforts are accelerating. He also pointed out that the awareness of management has been changing because of ESG evaluations and ratings, such as CDP and investment indexes. As for the changes in research institutes, Dr. Tasaki stated that, although there is a department for preparing environmental reports, it seems each department is separated from other departments. He also pointed out that it is important to consider whether the governance of an organization is truly effective, and that it is necessary not only to establish a department related to sustainability, but also to examine whether various departments are working together to reflect sustainability in the core business. As a university, Dr. Kikuchi stated that it is necessary to create more opportunities for students and faculty to discuss and work on sustainability together. He also pointed out the need to strengthen efforts to connect students’ activities and faculty members’ research, and also to strengthen cooperation with other organizations.

What is the Future of Sustainable Containers in a Material-Cycle Society?

One attendee asked a question whether the paper used in SPOPS can be reused. Mr. Noda stated that there is still an issue with collection and that paper with odor or surfactants used in toiletry products can cause problems during the recycling process by affecting the quality of the recycled products. He stated that it would be necessary to have a system to transport such products to paper mills after intermediate treatment. In order to tackle this issue, he plans to encourage companies not only to commercialize the products but also to collaborate in conducting demonstration tests for collection.

Do We really Need Detergents or Containers? 

Ms. Saza pointed out that people are thinking about containers based on the premise that there is detergent, but we need to discuss what detergent is needed for and whether containers are necessary in the first place. She also stated that Generation Z is aware that all business and our lives are based on the environment, and by involving young people with such awareness in the discussion, people can discuss the new future of washing and detergents. Mr. Noda stated that although it is difficult for a company that manufactures containers to discuss the elimination of containers, it is necessary to imagine what society will be like in 50 or 100 years, rather than not discussing it. Mr. Yanagita pointed out that while we need to think about what kind of society to build from a long-term perspective, we also need to look at what to do with what is right in front of us in the short term. As the debate on sustainability becomes more and more active, he said that the long-term and short-term perspectives are becoming more and more interlinked today. He also pointed out the importance of having diverse perspectives, stating that by working together with diverse stakeholders in CLOMA, members can find how they can reach their long-term goals.

What are the Characteristics of Japanese Circular Economy?

Another question asked if there were any characteristics of Japan in building a circular economy and a recycling-oriented society. Dr. Tasaki pointed out that Japan has already established the rules/regulations for the waste management system, which in turn weakens its ability to change them. On the other hand, the EU has been rationally changing its system since around 2005, and has come up with a shared vision among various countries. He pointed out that, in the case of Japan, the system has been created by focusing on how to adapt and fix the current problems rather than based on a vision for creating circular economy. Mr. Yanagita pointed out that it would be necessary for corporate LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) to be quantitative and future-oriented, showing what they are aiming for, rather than just focusing on the current data.


This seminar focused on sustainable containers and discussed the concept of circular economy as well as the corporate efforts to reduce the use of plastic, and the importance of reflecting youth perspectives. The seminar also pointed out the importance of incorporating diverse viewpoints by building partnerships beyond the corporate sector. The Future of Washing Initiative will continue to provide a discussion space for such diverse stakeholders to think more about a sustainable future.