Today, most packaging is designed to be used once. We empty the contents of a water bottle, squeeze toothpaste out of its tube, and then toss the container away. It’s hard to imagine a world without polyethylene terephthalate (PET) beverage bottles or plastic wraps made of polyvinylidene chloride (PVC), which keep our food fresh. These are plastics that prevent oxidation, add days of shelf life to meat, and make it possible to bring a jug of detergent home to do our laundry.
Because of their utility, plastics have helped conserve resources, but because of mismanagement and neglect they have contributed to an environmental calamity of their own. Around the globe, landfills overflow with discarded packaging that spills into oceans, lingers for decades, and leaches into food chains as microplastics. The Environmental Protection Agency said packaging accounted for 82 million tons of US waste in 2018, 28 percent of the country’s total solid waste.
The challenge now is to use less plastic packaging and to redesign our existing packages so that they can be reused or recycled, and don’t just end up as waste in landfills. Companies are stepping up to meet that challenge. Colgate-Palmolive, whose brand Colgate is found in more homes than any other, is spearheading an ambitious transformation. “We set a bold goal of eliminating a third of virgin plastic from our products by 2025,” said Greg Corra, Worldwide Director, Global Packaging & Sustainability. By 2025 Colgate has committed to making all its packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable; eliminating unnecessary and problematic packaging; and incorporating 25 percent post-consumer plastic into its products. “We believe in the power of partnership,” Corra said. “We realize that no single company in our value chain can solve these problems alone, so we are partnering, sharing and collaborating with other companies on sustainability innovations, such as our first-of-its-kind recyclable tube, as we reimagine a healthier future for all people, their pets, and our planet”