After five years of trying, Colgate-Palmolive has developed a recyclable toothpaste tube that it will introduce through its Tom’s of Maine brand next year, and then to the Colgate brand itself in select global markets.
By 2025, Colgate says all of its toothpaste brands will use the new tube, while all Colgate-Palmolive products will come in “100% recyclable material.” (Colgate acquired controlling interest of Tom’s in 2006.)
Most toothpaste tubes are constructed with sheets of plastic laminates, but usually include another layer of aluminum that protects the toothpaste’s flavor and fluoride, the company explains. This mix of materials makes it “impossible to recycle through conventional methods.”
To make the new tube, Colgate’s packaging engineers in Piscataway, N.J. used “number 2” plastic: the kind used for plastic soda bottles, for example. But that plastic, called high-density polyethylene (HDPE) was too rigid, so it was not a solution for a toothpaste tube.
The breakthrough came when the engineers combined different grades of HDPE for tubes. That works, and it can withstand the rigors of high-speed production.
“Until now, there hasn’t been a way to make toothpaste tubes part of the recycling stream," states Justin Skala, Colgate-Palmolive executive vice president, chief growth & strategy officer. “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.”
Colgate says the new tube is the first oral-care or personal-care tube to earn recognition from the Association of Plastic Recyclers, which happened just last week.
To get the APR’s approval, Colgate also had to show its new tube could get through the screens at materials recovery facilities that sort recyclables. It did that by attaching Radio Frequency ID tags to used tubes, to prove they were being accepted . And finally, Colgate had to show the plastic could be used again, so it demonstrated it can make plastic bottles out of ground-up tubes.
Toothpaste tubes are a big recycling problem. The company estimates that worldwide, 20 billion tubes of toothpaste, of all brands, are used up every year.
In an era of heightened awareness of environmental issues, the eco-friendly tube should be a marketing plus.
Two toothpaste brands fight -- tooth and nail, you might say -- for market superiority. Colgate has a 33% share of the U.S. market just behind Procter & Gamble’s Crest, with 35%.
Colgate-Palmolive owns an 84% stake in the Tom’s of Maine brand, a well-known producer of all-natural personal care products. Tom’s has long been involved with TerraCycle, a company that specializes in finding ways to recycle hard-to-recycle items, rewarding donors with points that can be donated to charities worldwide.