What makes a sustainability leader? Meet plastics innovation champions Colgate Palmolive
With the entry deadline for edie's 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards less than a month away, this series showcases the achievements of previous winners and reveals their secrets to success. Up next: Winner of our 'Plastic Reduction and Innovation' award, Colgate Palmolive.
It is the hybrid composition of toothpaste tubes – mixing laminated plastic and aluminium – which makes them squeezable. But this also makes them hard to recycle.
Colgate has created a new recyclable tube, which is made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) the “number two” plastic used to make milk jugs and other plastic bottles, and is already widely recycled. Colgate engineers figured out how to combine different grades and thicknesses of HDPE laminate into a tube that meets recycling standards, protects the product, and holds up to the demands of high-speed production, all while remaining comfortably squeezable.
In 2014, Colgate issued its first formal public packaging sustainability goals, which included a commitment for all packaging to be recyclable by 2020 for three of its four categories – pet nutrition, home care, and personal care, and to develop breakthrough innovation in its fourth category – oral care. The daunting challenge was to develop a truly recyclable toothpaste tube, which did not exist.
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 aluminium. The mix of materials makes it impossible to recycle through conventional methods, even with a significant portion of polyethylene.
HDPE had been thought to be too rigid to make a squeezable tube. However, Colgate chose this stream because it is already widely recycled. The company’s engineers figured out how to combine different grades and thicknesses of HDPE laminate into a tube that meets bottle recycling standards, protects the product, and holds up to the demands of high-speed production, all while remaining comfortably squeezable.
This led to the introduction of a first-of-its-kind recyclable toothpaste tube release in 2019, and a commitment to convert its Colgate Palmolive’s entire toothpaste tube portfolio by 2025. To make tubes recyclable at scale, Colgate targeted the existing in-practice HDPE coloured bottle recycling stream. The core challenge was achieving the familiar easy squeeze of a toothpaste tube while using the same plastic of bottles, which it successfully achieved after intense development.
The recyclable tubes are now rolling out across global markets. . In November 2019, Colgate delivered to retailers the first tube recognised by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) – antiplaque and whitening toothpaste under the company’s Tom’s of Maine brand. Plus, Colgate has already shared this technology with more than 15 other companies to help speed industry’s transformation.
The organisation has also partnered with The Association of Plastics Recyclers and RecyClass to approve its pioneering tube for recycling in existing HDPE plastic bottle recycling streams. It is working with The Recycling Partnership’s Pathway to Circularity to further acceptance of these tubes by more municipalities and recyclers.
Colgate is also deeply involved with plastics-reform networks like the Consumer Goods Forum Plastics Waste
Coalition of Action, Re:Source Plastic and US Plastics Pact, which bring together private companies, NGOs, governments and recyclers to expedite recycling best practices. And with Closed Loop Partners, the business is investing to scale sustainable products, services and infrastructure.
In addition to sharing details of its technology, including information subject to Colgate patent applications filed in the US and globally, Colgate has engaged with packaging and recycling stakeholders – including end consumers – 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
The business wants all toothpaste tubes – and eventually all kinds of tubes – to meet the same third-party recycling standards that it has achieved. It believes companies can align on these common standards for tubes and still compete with what is inside them.
edie’s judges said: “This innovative solution makes the packaging fit the system rather than the other way around. To see this sustainability leadership from the market leader should lead to a total change in the fate of 20 billion toothpaste tubes a year. Colgate’s approach also shows the way for other, less complex packaging demands to evolve.”
Are you our next winner?
After a tough and extraordinary year, edie’s RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are back for 2022, bigger and better than ever – celebrating the incredible people, projects and partnerships that are accelerating climate action and transforming business, for good.
Entries are now OPEN. The submission deadline for the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday 1 October 2021. The Awards is then set to take place as a live ceremony on the night of Wednesday 2 February 2022 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster.
Our ‘Sustainability Leader of the Year’ category is among the 23 categories to choose from. Make sure you get the recognition you, and your team, deserve. ENTER THE SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS AWARDS 2022 HERE.