Colgate-Palmolive recently committed to making 100 percent of its packaging fully recyclable for three out of four product categories by 2020. The three categories set to go recyclable are home, pet and personal care. Colgate has also committed to developing a completely recyclable toothpaste tube or package. In addition, the company agreed to increase the average recycled content of its packaging from 40 percent to 50 percent, and reduce or eliminate the use of PVC — a hard-to-recycle resin — in packaging.
As You Sow (AYS) filed a shareholder resolution with Colgate in 2012, asking the company to explore the feasibility of adopting an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) strategy for post-consumer packaging. For those who aren’t familiar, an EPR is a corporate and public policy that shifts responsibility for collecting and recycling from consumers and governments to producers. Canada and several European countries require companies to be responsible for post-consumer packaging by paying some or all of the cots for collection and recycling. Here in the U.S., 24 states have EPR laws on the books that mandate producer responsibility for collecting and recycling consumer electronics.
AYS withdrew the proposal after Colgate agreed to engage in dialogue. In doing so, Colgate became the first company to engage in dialogue with AYS to commit to setting goals for developing recyclable packaging. Colgate has also agreed to continue to engage in dialogue with As You Sow about the effectiveness of EPR for packaging systems.
“We congratulate Colgate-Palmolive on its leadership in phasing out unrecyclable packaging,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president of As You Sow. “Huge amounts of embedded value and energy are being buried in landfills. These packages should be designed to be recycled, reducing the use of virgin natural resources and mitigating emissions that contribute to climate change.”
There is a growing shift towards developing recyclable packaging. Keurig Green Mountain Coffee recently released a sustainability report in which it commits to make all K-Cups recyclable and achieve zero waste-to-landfill at its manufacturing and distribution facilities by 2020. Sustainable packaging will be a $244 billion market by 2018, according to a report by Smithers Para. AYS estimates put a $11.4 billion value on packaging materials not recycled in 2010.
It’s also worth considering that more than half of U.S. product packaging ends up in landfills or is burned instead of being recycled, and packaging makes up almost one-third of all U.S. landfill waste. The energy needed to produce and throw away products and packaging accounts for 44 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to EPA data estimates. Rotting paper packaging in landfills also forms methane, a GHG with a warming potential 23 times greater than carbon dioxide.
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