Global IX challenge: Re-use, Re-fill, Re-imagine – Innovative solutions for online consumer products within South-Africa

This Global Alliance Innovation Exchange challenge competition is supporting Unilever to identify innovative approaches towards new circular business models for reuse and refill models for online customers within South Africa.

Opportunity Details


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GBP 25,000 seed funding to work on the specific challenge. Support from Unilever and Innovate UK KTN, including support in the development of a prototype or pilot.

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Plastic is very valuable. It helps Unilever to get its products to consumers safely and efficiently. It’s often the lowest carbon footprint option compared to other materials, yet far too much plastic ends up in our environment. Global research has shown the flow of plastic into the ocean each year could triple by 2040. This must stop.

By 2025 Unilever will:

  • Halve the amount of virgin plastic used in packaging and achieve an absolute reduction of more than 100,000 tonnes in plastic use
  • Help collect and process more plastic packaging than sold
  • Ensure that 100% of plastic packaging is designed to be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable
  • Increase the use of post-consumer recycled plastic material in packaging to at least 25%.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution and to bring about change different solutions need to be considered. This requires out of the box innovative thinking and new business models, especially for online retails. This is where Unilever want your help. How can re-fill and re-use be applied for online consumer products? Unilever is looking for innovative solutions to this challenge, from a business model to an idea for a specific product, using the refill and re-use approach.

  • How do we develop new circular business models for reuse and refill and encourage sustainable consumption?
  • How do we rethink the product as well as the packaging – for example, a big challenge was what to do with unrecyclable toothpaste tubes – by redesigning the product (toothpaste) from a paste to a solid tablet – the packaging could be completely changed!
  • Think about the product. How it is consumed, when it is consumed, how often and for what purpose?

Think about the packaging and think about ways to redesign the entire consumer experience that supports refill and reuse. Key to this would be figuring out how to change consumers’ behaviours from a convenience culture (single-use items, pre-packaged foods, convenience meals, etc.) to a culture of responsible consumption and make the refill and reuse behaviour a desirable status symbol rather than a niche activity that only ‘eco-warriors’ would engage in.

Rewards & Benefits

Successful applicants will be given an opportunity to pitch to Unilever.

The package may also include:

  • Support from Unilever
  • Support from Innovate UK KTN (e.g. pitch training and mentoring)
  • Support in the development of a prototype or pilot
  • Technical support
  • Invitation to attend or present at Innovate UK KTN events
  • A potential business collaboration
  • Investor introductions (if investment is required)
  • Support if any innovation or similar competitions are relevant

The selected solution provider(s) will:

  • Work with Unilever who will facilitate and support solution testing
  • Receive GBP 25,000 seed funding to work on the specific challenge. Funding will be received in instalments, subject to specific Milestones (eg. project plan, mid-project report and final report)

Functional Requirements

The solution needs to be suitable for South Africa environment and infrastructure. Solutions are expected to be deployed within the next 1-2 years, but innovative solutions which might need a longer development phase will be considered.

Operating Conditions

Solutions need to be usable within South Africa.

Unilever is looking for practical solutions that deliver value to the consumer while decreasing the packaging requirements of its products. Solutions that are app-based will be considered but those must be part of a broader, practical solution.

Entrants to this competition must be established businesses, start-ups, SMEs, individual entrepreneurs, or academics.


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