Colgate is debuting a recyclable toothpaste tube, five years in development, that will launch under the Tom’s of Maine brand in the US next year. By 2025, the company will convert completely to recyclable toothpaste tubes, to coincide with its goal of all products being marketed in 100% recyclable packaging.
Colgate says the Tom’s of Main toothpaste tube is the first oral care or personal care tube to earn recognition for recyclability from the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
The company says that until now, there hasn’t been a way to make toothpaste tubes part of the recycling stream. Once the tube is proven with consumers, Colgate-Palmolive plans to offer the technology to the makers of plastic tubes for all kinds of products, the company announced.
Development of the Recyclable Tube
Most toothpaste tubes are made from sheets of plastic laminate – usually a combination of different plastics – often sandwiched around a thin layer of aluminum that protects the toothpaste’s flavor and fluoride. The mix of materials is pressed together into a single film, making it impossible to recycle through conventional methods.
To make a recyclable tube, Colgate chose high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the widely recycled “No. 2” plastic popular for bottle making. But because HDPE is rigid, it isn’t well suited for ultra-thin laminate sheets and soft, squeezable tubes.
Colgate says its “eureka moment” came when packaging engineers working at its Piscataway, NJ, technology campus recognized that they could use more than one grade of HDPE in their designs. The team then tested a dozen different combinations – using from six to 20 layers – to find the recipe that allows people to squeeze out all the toothpaste, protects the integrity of the product, and meets the demands of high-speed production.
To achieve APR recognition, Colgate then conducted tests to show that its toothpaste tube could navigate the screens and conveyor belts at the Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) that sort recyclables. Colgate used Radio Frequency Identification 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 make new plastic bottles.
Building Support for Recycling the Tube
Colgate says that making a recyclable tube is only part of the challenge. While APR provides guidelines for recyclability in North America, Colgate will need to engage similar organizations in other parts of the world as it expands use of its new tube. It must also build awareness and support among other recycling stakeholders: the MRFs that sort recyclables, the reclaimers that produce resin from recycled plastic, the municipalities that operate recycling programs, and others.