Companies are constantly being encouraged to make their packaging out of plastic materials that can be recycled or are biodegradable or compostable. Obviously, from all the studies done over the past several years, recycling is the optimal method for capturing the value of end-of-life plastic products. In November, Colgate-Palmolive started the switch to a first-of-its-kind recyclable toothpaste tube and now wants others to follow its lead.
Most of today’s toothpaste tubes are made from sheets of plastic laminate—usually a combination of different plastics—often sandwiched around a thin layer of aluminum. The mix of materials makes the tubes impossible to recycle through conventional methods, explained Colgate.
To make its recyclable tube, Colgate chose high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the No. 2 plastic used to make milk jugs and other plastic bottles. HDPE had been thought to be too rigid to make a squeezable tube, but Colgate engineers figured out a way to combine different grades and thicknesses of HDPE laminate to make a toothpaste tube. It meets recycling standards, protects the product and holds up to the demands of high-speed production, all while remaining comfortably squeezable.
Last month, Colgate delivered to retailers the first tube recognized by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR): Antiplaque & Whitening toothpaste under the company’s Tom’s of Maine brand. Tom’s will complete the switch in 2020, when the Colgate brand will start the transition in Europe and North America. By 2025, the company will complete needed modifications to tube-making equipment at more than a dozen of its facilities around the world.
To earn APR recognition, Colgate also had to demonstrate that the tube material could be reused to make new plastic bottles and would successfully navigate the screens and conveyor belts used to sort recyclables. The tube—from invention to APR recognition in June—was developed over more than five years. The company currently is seeking similar recognition from Plastics Recyclers Europe.
Now, Colgate is sharing its innovative technology with competitors as part of its campaign to transform one of the most widely used forms of plastic packaging that, until now, could not be recycled, said Colgate.
Colgate’s pioneering work with APR, which sets recyclability standards for North America, has already made a difference, noted the company. Making use of the testing standards established by Colgate, one major tube maker, Essel Propack, earned APR recognition, and another, Albéa, is working toward recognition.
“If we can standardize recyclable tubes among all companies, we all win," said Noel Wallace, CEO and President of Colgate-Palmolive. “We want all toothpaste tubes—and eventually all kinds of tubes—to meet the same third-party recycling standards that we’ve achieved. We can align on these common standards for tubes and still compete with what’s inside them.”
In addition to sharing details of its technology, including information subject to patent applications, Colgate has engaged with packaging and recycling stakeholders, including end customers, to build awareness and acceptance of the “ready-to-recycle” tube. And Colgate engineers are already sharing the company’s plans at key packaging forums and other industry meetings.
“Colgate wants to make tubes a part of the circular economy by keeping this plastic productive and eliminating waste,” said Wallace. “This advancement can make a significant difference in the marketplace today as we test new packaging materials, product formats and refillable models to reduce our use of plastic.”