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Colgate’s fully recyclable toothpaste tube first to receive APR recognition

Colgate recyclable toothpaste tube
The HDPE-based tube does not contain aluminum and can be recycled just like plastic bottles.

Toothpaste tubes typically have been non-recyclable because a layer of aluminum is sandwiched between the laminated layers of plastic in the tube design. Colgate announced that it has finalized the design of a fully recyclable toothpaste tube, the first oral-care or personal-care tube to be recognized by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) for recyclability.

The newly designed tube, which has been under development for more than five years, will make its debut under Colgate’s Tom’s of Maine brand in the United States next year. It will then roll out to select global markets under the Colgate brand. The company plans to fully convert to recyclable tubes by 2025, when all of its products will be in 100% recyclable packaging.

“Building a future to smile about means finding new packaging solutions that are better for the planet, but until now there hasn’t been a way to make toothpaste tubes part of the recycling stream,” said Justin Skala, Executive Vice President, Chief Growth & Strategy Officer for Colgate-Palmolive. “Once we’ve proven the new tube with consumers, we intend to offer the technology to the makers of plastic tubes for all kinds of products. By encouraging others to use this technology, we can have an even bigger impact and increase the long-term market viability of this solution.”

To make a recyclable tube, Colgate chose high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the widely recycled No. 2 plastic popular for bottle making. Because HDPE is rigid, it isn’t well suited for ultra-thin laminate sheets and soft, squeezable tubes. Colgate packaging engineers working on the project then discovered that they could use more than one grade of HDPE in their designs. The team tested a dozen different combinations—using from six to 20 layers—to find a recipe that allows people to comfortably squeeze out all the toothpaste while protecting the integrity of the product and meeting the demand of high-speed production. 

To achieve APR recognition, Colgate also conducted tests to show that its toothpaste tube could navigate the screens and conveyor belts at the critically important materials recovery facilities that sort recyclables. Colgate used radio-frequency identification (RFI) tags to track the tubes and prove they would be properly sorted with plastic bottles. And to demonstrate that the recyclable tube material could be repurposed after recycling—another critical part of gaining APR recognition—the company ground up the tubes to successfully produce new plastic bottles.

Colgate has also partnered with TerraCycle’s Loop initiative for reusable, refillable packaging. “Colgate people are excited about this challenge and meeting our goal of 100% recyclable packaging,” said Ann Tracy, VP Global Sustainability, EOHS and Supply Chain Strategy. “We’re committed to using less plastic—and more recycled material—in our packaging. We’re helping to strengthen recycling by supporting the Closed Loop Fund and other efforts. And we’re exploring new ingredients and models, including TerraCycle’s Loop initiative.”

APR President Steve Alexander commented: “The Association of Plastic Recyclers appreciated the opportunity to partner with Colgate on this important project. Tubes are one of the most widely used forms of plastic packaging that still cannot be recycled. There is a lot of work ahead, but we believe Colgate is off to a great start.”

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