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What’s it going to take to eliminate plastic waste? Everything

At Colgate-Palmolive, we’re taking definitive actions that make better use of plastic, extend its lifespan and replace it where appropriate, all to eliminate the scourge of plastic waste.

By Greg Corra, Worldwide Director, Global Packaging & Sustainability
March 2022

Plastic is amazing. Lightweight, strong, versatile and inexpensive. Capable of safely containing and preserving all kinds of products as they journey from the factory to your home. Remarkable really.

Didn’t expect that from someone dedicated to sustainability? Well, this is a frank conversation about real choices for real change.

Plastic’s utility is the very reason for the ubiquity of plastic waste. Most everyone uses it because plastic is often the “best” choice. We’ve become addicted to its benefits.

But now we’re experiencing the reckoning of unintended consequences. Too much plastic, being used too few times, ending up in landfills.

At Colgate-Palmolive, we’re committed to help change that. Our ambition? Reduce plastic waste.

In our 2025 Sustainability & Social Impact Strategy, we’ve pledged to design and deliver circular and alternative solutions for all Colgate products, aimed at zero plastic waste to the environment.

We’re taking a comprehensive approach to reach this ambitious goal. By 2025, we will strive to:

  • Reduce unnecessary packaging
  • Make all our packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable
  • Reduce use of new (virgin) plastic by one-third (against a 2019 baseline)
  • Use at least 25% post-consumer recycled plastic in packaging

There’s no silver-bullet solution to plastics pollution. We must tackle plastic waste across the entire value chain.

And as we seek alternatives, we must weigh their total environmental impact and ask tough questions.

In recent years, we looked at using glass bottles instead of plastic ones for a liquid product. But, due to their weight and the energy required to produce and ship them, the greenhouse gas emissions from the glass bottles were over 3.5x higher than using 100% recycled plastic. What’s the right balance?

We don’t have a simple answer. What we do have are definitive actions that make better use of plastic, extend its lifespan and replace it where appropriate, all to further our ambition to reduce plastic waste.

Here’s a look at several approaches, with examples from the 400+ plastics-related projects Colgate has underway.

In our 2025 Sustainability & Social Impact Strategy, we’ve pledged to design and deliver circular and alternative solutions for all Colgate products, aimed at zero plastic waste to the environment.

Reimagine Packaging & Product Forms

How might we forgo plastic altogether? We’re exploring alternative materials that offer environmental advantages.

Innovative product formats that allow for plastic-free packaging -- like toothpaste tablets from our hello brand packaged in a refillable, reusable tin container, and in a glass jar under the Colgate brand.

And Colgate Bamboo Toothbrushes feature handles made from 100% natural bamboo. 

All packaging for the line is plastic free, made from recyclable cardboard.

As part of its “Go Green” initiative to help eliminate plastic waste, Palmolive Ultra Strength dish soap is packaged in recyclable bottles made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic.*

Palmolive Shake & Clean dish gel results in 75% less plastic** with its reusable bottle. The bottle is made with 100% recycled plastic and eliminates the need for a new bottle every time.

*46oz and under. Based on estimated 2021 U.S. and Canada volumes

**per refill using an existing bottle vs. buying a new 20oz bottle

Softsoap foaming hand soap tablets come in a reusable aluminum bottle resulting in 71% less plastic.***

***compared to Softsoap 8.75 fl oz Foaming Hand Soap Bottles

Reduce the Plastic Required

What you don’t use, you don’t need to manage.

By design, we’re continuing to create thinner, lighter plastic packages, reducing the amount of plastic to the bare minimum aka “lightweighting.” In Mexico, for example, we reduced the weight of the cap used in Suavitel fabric softener’s 450ml bottles, saving 72 metric tons of plastic per year.

A clever twist to a package’s functionality can eliminate plastic elements like trigger pulls. Our Murphy’s Squirt & Mop dispenses by squeezing the bottle, no extra trigger spray mechanism required.

We’re also reducing plastic used for shipping and for display at the retail shelf. These redesigned red toothbrush display trays now use 50% less plastic.

Rev Up Recyclability + Recycling Infrastructure

Recycling has a lot of fans, including us. More of our packages than ever are made from widely recyclable PET and HDPE (and none include PVC plastic) as we aim for all of our packaging to be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

We are very proud of our first-of-its-kind recyclable toothpaste tube, an apropos advancement for the world’s leading toothpaste brand. These recyclable tubes are now rolling out across global markets. Even better: We’ve already shared this technology with other companies to help speed the industry's transformation.

But innovating a newly recyclable package only works when there are local systems available and amenable to processing it. Infrastructure is everything.

We’ve partnered with The Association of Plastics Recyclers and RecyClass to approve our pioneering tube for recycling in existing HDPE plastic bottle recycling streams. 

We’re working with The Recycling Partnership’s Pathway to Circularity and the Stina Tube Recyclability Project 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 U.S. Plastics Pact which bring together private companies, NGOs, governments and recyclers to expedite recycling best practices. And with Closed Loop Partners, we’re investing to scale sustainable products, services and infrastructure.

Use More Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic Instead of New Plastic

When we have more plastic in the system available for recycling, we move closer to a circular economy and can cut the amount of new plastic we need.

Currently the demand for quality recycled plastic is higher than the supply. But we continue to work with industry partners to increase the percentage of post-consumer plastic in our packaging to at least 25% by 2025.

Some of our newest products far exceed this goal. Soupline Plant-Based fabric softeners in Europe, for example, come in recyclable bottles made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic.

Refill Packages

Another promising avenue is the “buy it once” movement, where a durable package may be repeatedly refilled and reused. We have several pilots underway in this area.

With PLOOF Ajax, which we’re testing in France, people buy one reusable spray bottle, fill it with water at home and plop in an effervescent tablet that transforms the liquid into an Ajax multipurpose cleaner. For more cleaner, buy more Ajax tablets, which are packed in paper sachets. No plastic packaging or shipping of heavy liquids required, reducing the overall carbon footprint.

On manual toothbrushes, we’ve innovated to reduce  80% less plastic with our Colgate Keep toothbrush line compared to similarly sized Colgate toothbrushes. 

This system pairs a durable and ergonomic aluminum handle which lasts a lifetime with a replaceable version of our performing brush heads. And it comes in an all-paper package that is recyclable and also made with 60% recycled fiber.

We have established a partnership with Algramo which offers bulk refill stations in residential areas and retail centers.

People bring their empty containers and replenish their supply of items like Softsoap without buying any new packaging.

We’re currently testing Algramo’s “refill on the go” model in a Target Open House store in California.

Recover Plastic

Tons of plastic gets tossed in landfills and other undesirable places, unable to be recycled. We’re challenging ourselves to find ways to recover that plastic so that it can become circular.  In the Philippines we’ve launched a Plastic Waste Collection program which includes using recovered plastic waste into eco-bricks and made into Wash & Brush Stations. 

Believe Change Is Possible

I’ve shared just a sampling of our ongoing efforts to eliminate plastic waste; many more initiatives are in the works. The scale of plastics waste can make our mission to create a healthy, sustainable future feel insurmountable. Through collaboration, innovation, and--most importantly--a hefty dose of optimism we can conquer plastic waste. It will take everything we have, things we have not yet thought of and everyone summoning the courage to put their optimism in action.

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