Case study

Colgate-Palmolive innovates with recyclable toothpaste tube


The multinational is developing sustainable packaging solutions. With its recyclable toothpaste tube, it is taking an important step towards a circular economy for oral care packaging. 

60% of all households worldwide have at least one Colgate-Palmolive product in their home(1). So the care products multinational is taking the lead to develop sustainable packaging trends. With their  recyclable toothpaste tube, they are taking a major step towards a circular economy for the packaging of oral hygiene products.

“Developing sustainable packaging for oral hygiene products turned out to be a real challenge”, says Caroline Brucker, sustainability manager at Colgate-Palmolive for France and the Benelux. “In many countries, toothpaste tubes disappear into the residual waste because they consist of various layers, including aluminium. The Colgate Smile for Good toothpaste range was the first in 2019 to benefit from the polyethylene tube (HDPE), a recyclable material. The tubes of all our toothpaste ranges will gradually be switched to this technology so that by the end of 2023 all our products in Belgium will be in this recyclable material. And worldwide, this will be effective by the end of 2025.”

It is not enough for the tube to be recyclable in theory. It has to work in practice, too. So Colgate-Palmolive is in close contact with materials and recycling organisations in the various countries. In Belgium, the tube is recycled via the New Blue Bag.

Recycling solution for every packaging

Around 2% of all packaging that currently comes onto the Belgian market is still not recyclable. This is often complex, composite packaging. In many cases, toothpaste tubes consist of layers of different polymers and may or may not include a layer of aluminium. Such multi-material packaging disrupts the recycling. That is now changing with a toothpaste tube made of 100% polyethylene (HDPE) plastic.

“With the introduction of the New Blue Bag, the recycling of household packaging waste moved up a gear”, says Steven Boussemaere, Director Projects & Development of Fost Plus. “Today, over eight million Belgians are already using it, and by the end of the summer this uniform system will apply for everyone. At the same time, we invested in high-tech sorting centres to sort all these new types of materials. In the past, we separated HDPE bottles, mainly milk bottles and shampoo containers, and now we sort all HDPE packaging together.”

HDPE packaging is sorted in the sorting centres using Near Infrared technology. It is then processed in the recycling centres to make plastic granules which are used again as a raw material for products such as pipes, boxes and non-food containers. Fost Plus is currently working with specialised partners in Germany for this.

Change for the entire range

Around 20 billion tubes of toothpaste are sold every year throughout the world.Colgate-Palmolive is making the technology behind the 100% recyclable tube available to other producers via open source. “The aim is to create critical mass”, continues Caroline Brucker. “By making recyclable tubes standard, we are bringing about a real change in the range. After all, this technology cannot only be applied to toothpaste tubes, but to tubes of face cream as well, for instance.”

Colgate-Palmolive is currently working on an innovative, light HDPE cap to replace the current one made of PP (Polypropylene) that is also recyclable.

As a driving force behind the circular economy in Belgium, Fost Plus is working with its members to find a recycling solution for each form of packaging that comes onto the market.

(1) Kantar Brand Footprint Report 2020, Penetration Colgate 59,7%