Colgate packaging designer: Recyclable toothpaste tubes re-engineered for world’s most scaled recycling streams
11 May 2021 --- A week before the Rethinking Materials virtual summit (May 19-20), PackagingInsights speaks to Jun Wang, packaging innovation and global design at Colgate-Palmolive Company Technology Center.
Wang explains how the company’s latest toothpaste tube innovation is a step toward full circularity and eliminating plastic waste.
The recyclable toothpaste tube is made from the same plastic used to make bottles, so it recycles like a bottle, but squeezes easily like a tube. Colgate-Palmolive began its EU switch to the “first-of-its-kind” tube last year.
The Rethinking Materials summit brings together key players in the packaging industry to present new opportunities for partnerships and investment within the circular economy paradigm.
Speakers will address how their companies plan to tackle plastic waste upstream and downstream, the viability of new technologies and next-generation materials, routes to scaling up, and cross-sector applications in packaging, foodservice, personal care and fashion.
At the event, Wang is set to present a case demonstrating how to scale circular solutions, which is one of the summit’s major themes.
Is the circular plastics movement the solution to eliminating plastic waste?
Wang: Circularity is a central solution to eliminating plastic waste, and is core to our 2025 plastics sustainability strategy. Our approach includes making all of our packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable and eliminating one-third of our virgin plastic use by 2025.
What type of plastic is used in the tube?
Wang: We re-engineered the toothpaste tube to be made primarily from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) to be compatible with the #2 HDPE recycling stream, one of the most scaled recycling streams globally.
Our goal is to make all tubes recyclable, so making them compatible with and recycled in an in-practice and at scale stream was our focus rather than creating a new separate recycling stream for the tubes.
What was the technological focus when developing these tubes?
Wang: The technology includes the material change and optimization to allow the tubes to meet recyclability requirements, while maintaining all the tube performance and forming processes at scale, without losing productivity.
What were the main developmental challenges and how did you overcome them?
Wang: There were multiple challenges we needed to overcome on both the material selection and tube making processes. HDPE is not a material widely used for film and tubes; it’s used for bottles and other rigid molded articles.
The film and tube making processes are not designed to handle HDPE. What we did was work closely with resin suppliers, film makers and tube making machine suppliers, testing and optimizing the combination of resin grades, tube film/laminate layer structures and tube making processing conditions and experiencing rounds and rounds of trial and error to get a best solution.
How easily can consumers recycle the tubes through household streams?
Wang: Making the tube recyclable in the #2 HDPE bottle stream enables people to recycle their tubes the same way they recycle their bottles, which includes curbside recycling.
We are working with the recycling associations, industry groups, and municipalities to promote local acceptance of tube recycling and we are on our way.
Which geographical markets is the tube available in?
Wang: Since first launching this innovative tube in 2019 on our US Tom’s of Maine brand, we expanded to the Colgate brand in early 2020 with Smile for Good in the EU.
We continue to expand and have the tube in market in each of our five divisions, including Optic White in the US, Natural Extracts in Latin America, and Smile for Good in Australia. We are on track to commit our entire portfolio to recyclable tubes by 2025.
By Kristiana Lalou
Ahead of the Rethinking Materials virtual summit, PackagingInsights also spoke with event speakers Hugo Menilo, Unilever’s global foods packaging director, and DuPont’s Renee Henze, director of global marketing and commercial development for bio-based materials and Dr. Michael Saltzberg, global business director for biomaterials.
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