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Colgate leads toothpaste tube recycling innovation

Did you know that around 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes are discarded worldwide every year? Colgate has redesigned its packaging to improve the recycling rate for this easily overlooked niche waste stream.

In America alone, consumers use more than 400 million tubes of toothpaste annually. Most end up in landfills because the multi-material packaging isn’t generally accepted at recycling centres. Colgate spent the last five years researching how to make the plastic-aluminium composite tubes more recycling friendly.

‘We identified the stream that recycles milk bottles—high-density polyethylene—because it most closely matched existing technologies,’ says Tom Heaslip, Colgate’s worldwide director of global packaging. He admits it took lots of tweaking to ‘evolve the materials in the right way’.

For example, a tube made with high-density polyethylene wouldn’t be easy to squeeze. Also, it would be difficult to use HDPE in the ultra-fine sheets that are used to manufacture the tubes. But by experimenting with multiple layers of the material in different grades, Colgate engineers developed a design that worked for them.

Heaslip says they tested the new packaging at recycling facilities to ensure that they would be sorted correctly. Next, engineers ground up the packaging to recycle it fully into a new plastic bottle. Results are ‘very promising’ and consumer feedback has been positive, Heaslip notes.

The new tubes can also be mass-produced because they are compatible with the Colgate’s existing high-speed manufacturing equipment. ‘We didn’t want a specialty tube,’ says Heaslip. ‘We needed one that matched existing capability as best as possible to make it affordable to convert the entire business.’

By 2025, Colgate plans to switch completely to the new design in markets worldwide. Before then, it is planning an awareness campaign to inform consumers the plastic tubes can be put with the other recyclables.

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