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How Colgate-Palmolive Is Creating the Products of Tomorrow

With products in nearly two out of every three households in the world, Colgate-Palmolive’s products have the power to drive industry change.

As one of the largest producers of toothpaste tubes in the world and the brand in more homes than any other, team members within Colgate-Palmolive know they always have unique opportunities to innovate. 

So, starting in the mid-2010s, scientists within the company began researching, developing, and testing different materials and methods that could result in a recyclable tube.

“We had to figure out how to design a tube that could be recycled at scale but also works as well as the tubes that billions of people use daily,” Greg Corra, Worldwide Director of Global Packaging & Sustainability at Colgate-Palmolive, said. “The key first step was to replace the aluminum foil layer with a recyclable barrier.”

When combined with other materials, aluminum foil can’t be recycled. But since a recycling stream already exists for High-­Density Polyethylene (HDPE) bottles — the same plastic used to make milk bottles — team members at Colgate-Palmolive asked the question: Can we make our tubes out of the same HDPE material and still have it squeeze like a toothpaste tube? 

“The challenging part was to determine how to make this rather rigid material perform like a film,” Jun Wang, Technical Associate of Packaging Innovation, said. “We achieved it by layering different specifications of HDPE to achieve a tube that squeezes as people expect but technically performs to our high standards.”

In retrospect, the work was pioneering. Last year, Colgate-Palmolive was named to Fast Company’s 2021 list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies for developing a first-of-its-kind recyclable plastic tube and openly sharing this technology. The recyclable material — made from several grades of HDPE — is now being used in Colgate Optic White and Tom’s of Maine in North America, Colgate Smile for Good in Europe and Asia, and Colgate Natural Extracts in Latin America.

By 2025, Colgate-Palmolive will strive to reduce unnecessary packaging, reduce the use of new (virgin) plastic by one-third against our 2019 baseline, and use at least 25% post-consumer recycled plastic in packaging.

In addition, 100% of our packaging is targeted to be recyclable, reusable, and/or compostable. The recyclable tube innovation paves the way for that goal to be reached.

But it’s not the only area within Colgate-Palmolive where new innovations are breaking down the sustainability barriers on our journey to eliminate plastic waste. Through Colgate’s Elixir with dreamtube technology, post-consumer recycled Palmolive Dish Soap and Palmolive Shake & Clean, and Colgate Keep — innovations detailed below — our team has created products that are making a big impact.

SMILE — Our Sustainability & Social Impact Ambitions

  • Driving Social Impact. We are committed to ensuring the well-being of those we serve, building a culture of inclusivity, and creating meaningful opportunities for all people to succeed inside and outside Colgate.
  • Helping MILlions of Homes. We are empowering people to develop healthier habits by choosing sustainable products that improve their lives and homes from oral and personal care to pet nutrition and home care.
  • Preserving Our Environment. We are accelerating action on climate change and reducing our environmental footprint, working with our partners and operations to eliminate waste, decrease plastic usage, save water, and conserve natural resources.

Colgate Elixir: Our Collaboration With MIT-Developed Technology

Colgate’s Elixir is a new toothpaste experience that allows us to use polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with more viscous toothpaste. Elixir is packaged with a revolutionary system using LiquiGlide, a frictionless coating developed by MIT. The materials are as easy to recycle as a plastic water bottle.  

Palmolive 100% Post-Consumer Recycled Bottles & Palmolive Shake & Clean

Palmolive shows how efficacy and sustainability can work hand in hand with the re-launch of the new Palmolive Ultra dish soap, in bottles now made with 100% post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic. The move is estimated to divert more than 5,200 tons of plastic a year out of landfills in the U.S. and Canada, making Palmolive the biggest dish soap brand in North America to transition to 100% PCR bottles.

And with Palmolive Shake & Clean, you never have to toss that PCR bottle away. Each concentrated dish gel refill results in 75% less plastic waste.

Colgate Keep: Our Lifetime-Lasting Aluminum Handles 

Colgate Keep is a revolutionary manual toothbrush. With Colgate Keep, customers use replaceable brush heads with an aluminum handle that lasts a lifetime, cutting down plastic waste by 80%. Keep is sold in environmentally-friendly molded fiber packaging made from 100% recycled paper.

By redesigning the daily habits of billions of people across the globe, Colgate-Palmolive has an unparalleled ability to contribute to the health of our planet, imagining solutions for a better world.