Burt’s Bees Launches Lip Balm Tube Recycling Program

Burt’s Bees has partnered up with Preserve, a sustainable consumer goods company known for its 100 percent recycled products, to encourage recycling of the #5 plastics commonly used in consumer goods packaging.

The partnership is part of Preserve’s Gimme 5 program, which lets consumers return products containing plastic #5 for reuse in other products like razors and toothbrushes. Consumers can now recycle tubes from Burt’s Bees Lip Balm, Tinted Lip Balm and Lip Shimmer, as well as the plastic caps from all Burt’s Bees products, at Gimme 5 recycling bins across the country or by mailing the products in.

#5 plastic, or polypropylene plastic, is the most common plastic used in the U.S., according to the EPA, and can be found in anything with a hard plastic package (toothbrushes, cottage cheese containers, medicine bottles, lip balm tubes, yogurt containers, and so on). Unlike its #1 and #2 counterparts, which are recycled at a reasonably high rate, over 99 percent of #5 plastic gets sent to the landfill.

This represents a loss of a vast source of raw material, as #5 is one of the most benign plastics and can be reused to create new products with relative ease. To date, efforts to recycle #5 have been shockingly sparse: Preserve’s Gimme 5 program is the only large-scale recycling program for #5 plastic in the entire country.

Gimme 5 bins cans be found at Whole Foods and a number of other natural food markets across the country. Preserve lists collection locations on its website. In addition to Burt’s Bees products, Preserve also collects its own products, as well as products from Stonyfield, Brita and Tom’s of Maine.

Burt’s Bees, which was founded in 1984 as a candle making partnership between Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby, sells a variety of household products made from 99 percent all-natural materials.

“Our Beeswax Lip Balm started out in a clay pot, then moved into a tin, and didn’t end up in a yellow plastic tube until founders, Burt and Roxanne, were able to source a recycled plastic tube in the 1990s,” said Paula Alexander, Director of Sustainable Business at Burt’s Bees. “We’re proud to take the next step in managing the life cycle of our lip care packaging by providing an important recycling service to our consumers through our partnership with Preserve.”

Burt’s Bees has been a poster child for natural food products, experiencing colossal growth behind its most popular product, lip balm, which the company introduced in 1991. When Clorox purchased Burt’s Bees in 2007, Quimby left the company with a reported $350 million.

Though not as large as Burt’s Bees, Preserve has been around since 1995 and has built a remarkably successful business selling products made from 100 percent recycled material. In early 2012, Preserve became a Certified B Corporation, joining the ranks of over 500 companies from 60 industries that have met rigorous standards of social and environmental performance.

“Preserve is ‘proof of concept’ for a new way of doing business,” said Jay Coen Gilbert, B Lab co-founder. “Preserve is a model for other companies due to its pioneering work in creating sustainable consumer products and bringing together like-minded companies to create recycling systems for their products.”

To date, Preserve has managed to repurpose nearly 100 tons of recycled plastic into its products. The company sells a wide range of products, including kitchen storage containers, toothbrushes, razors, toothpicks, colanders, measuring cups, and cutting boards.

[Image credit: ayustety, Flickr]

Harry Stevens is a freelance reporter covering climate change, corporate social responsibility, social enterprise, and sustainable finance. Harry has contributed to several media outlets, including Justmeans, GreenBiz, TriplePundit, and Sustainablog. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens

3 responses

  1. “(Preserve pays for the postage).”???

    Where does this information come from? I can not find this anywhere on their website. It even states “Unfortunately, we are unable to pay for you to mail your #5s to us.” Which leads me to conclude I would be paying the postage.

    What does it cost to mail a ton of #5 a few pounds at a time? At even $1 per pound Parcel Post that’s $2,000 per ton expense, which is crazy! And that doesn’t count the time and cost of preparing it and going to the post office.

    Big deal, I get Recyclebank points. Has anyone calculated the value, or should I say non-value, of those points? And what about the greenhouse gas implications of all that shipping and the use of mailing materials?

    I wonder if some “green” theories are lacking in common sense, and I’m a lifelong tree hugging environmentalist! I’d be most interested in a full life-cycle impact analysis of programs like these.

    1. DearJohn,

      We are happy to hear from fellow tree hugging environmentalists. Preserve
      was founded on the values of sustainability and authenticity, and we continue
      to abide by these today. Allow us to address the topics you have raised.

      We wish that we could pay every dollar of shipping costs for every person
      willing to collect, pack and send us their used #5 plastic for recycling.
      But, indeed, it does not make economic sense for us, and we do not offer to do
      this as you found out. We apologize for this not being more clear in the
      article (we don’t always have a chance to preview news features). Preserve’s
      Gimme 5 retail drop off locations at Whole Food Markets and some natural food coops provides a method for consumers to drop off their #5 plastics at no cost. We are thrilled to be able to offer a program like this for consumers to access #5 plastic recycling.

      However, we do pay for the postage to return our Preserve toothbrushes back to
      us for recycling. To keep the growing program sustainable, we recently evolved
      our mail back process so that it encourages consumers to send back multiple
      toothbrushes in lightweight, easily recyclable methods, such as in a water
      bottle (or “Bottleship” as we like to call it).

      With both of those collection programs, we have used lifecycle assessments to
      guide our program design. As many before us have concluded, recycling
      does make environmental sense. Especially with Polypropylene recycling rates under 5%, our program
      offers a solution to #5 plastic ending up in landfills.

      We partnered with Recyclebank to help increase the awareness of and
      participation in our Gimme 5 program to encourage recycling. In addition to
      joining a community of recyclers, Recyclebank offers their members incentives
      for their green actions with discounts and deals for more than 3,000
      businesses. While recycling is rewarding in and of itself, offering Gimme 5
      participants to earn Recyclebank Points was one more way we could encourage
      recycling activities.

      Please let us know if you have any more questions.



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