Consumer products giant Unilever will introduce new recyclable toothpaste tubes for several of its brands later this year, part of a corporate mission to design only plastic packaging that is reusable, recyclable or compostable.
The tubes have been in development four years and will be available in Unilever's two biggest oral care markets: France and India.
The brands partnered with multiple global packaging manufacturers including India-based EPL Global (formerly formerly Essel Propack), Amcor, Huhtamaki and Dai Nippon Indonesia on the development of the new tubes, and worked with formulation and flavor experts at Unilever to ensure quality and taste of the product were not impacted.
"It's been a long and challenging journey to get to this point, but we hope this transformation will inspire the wider industry to also make the change," said Samir Singh, executive vice president, global skin cleansing and oral care.
Traditionally, most toothpaste tubes are made from a combination of plastic and aluminium, which gives the packaging its flexibility but also makes it difficult to recycle. Instead of aluminium, the new tubes will use a material made mostly of high density polyethylene, which has an existing recycling market. It will also be the thinnest plastic material available on the toothpaste market at 220 microns, which will reduce the amount of plastic needed for each tube.
"When it comes to making oral care sustainable, it has been challenging to develop a product that is recyclable without adding extra plastic to the tube, said Alan Conner, vice president for Europe, at EPL.
The design has been certified as fully recyclable within the standard HDPE recycling streams by RecyClass, which sets the recyclability standard for Europe, as well as approved by laboratories in Asia and North America. To encourage wider industry change, the innovation will be made available for other companies to adopt.
"Recyclable tubes mark a key milestone in our packaging journey and, more significantly, they have the potential to transform the whole oral care industry. Together with our manufacturing partners, we're making the new design available to any producers interested in adopting the new material, with the ambition to accelerate industry change," said Babu Cherian, who leads research and development for Unilever oral care packaging.
Recyclability is one thing, actually recycling the tubes is something else. Unilever is also working with global recycling organisations to help ensure that the new tubes are collected and recycled.
The next step, said Unilever, will be the introduction of recycled content in the form of post-consumer recycled plastic into the structure of the recyclable tubes by 2022 in France and other European markets. This will significantly reduce the use of virgin plastic, support the move towards a circular economy and lend further credence to Unilever's ambition to help collect and process more plastic packaging that it sells. The company also plans to convert its entire global toothpaste portfolio to recyclable tubes by 2025.