Colgate-Palmolive cautions that it could miss its target to achieve recyclability, reusability, and compostability across its packaging range by 2025, citing “industry-wide challenges” related to flexible packaging.

After signing the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Plastics Commitment in 2018, Colgate-Palmolive established corresponding targets for 2025, including its goal to ensure that all its packaging is recyclable, reusable, or compostable within the time frame.

As of 31st December 2022, it was reported that the company had achieved 87.6% technically recyclable, reusable, or compostable packaging, marking an 84.2% increase from the previous year. Now the figure is said to be up by 87.6%, reaching 89.5% by the end of 2023.

Apparently, it has transitioned approximately 60% of its toothpaste SKUs into recyclable tubes across the world; in North America, the figure is said to reach 90%, and is expected to surpass 95% by the end of this year. By 2025, it seeks to transition the remainder of its global portfolio into recyclable tubes.

On the other hand, Colgate-Palmolive identifies “industry-wide challenges” with flexible packaging, such as its Hill’s Pet Food bags and personal care pouches. Here the company warns that it could miss its 2025 target for full recyclability, reusability, and compostability.

Chairman, president and CEO Noel Wallace describes the reduction of plastic waste and the pursuit of a circular economy as a “daunting challenge”. He elaborates that, “while we have set clear targets in areas such as using less plastic and more recycled plastic and making all of our packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable, we also need to work with others towards systemic changes that no company can achieve alone.

“For example, through an industry coalition we endorsed a white paper on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that supports the development of optimal EPR programmes and as a key solution for accelerating progress on packaging waste.

“Colgate-Palmolive People are committed to meeting the challenges we face head-on and achieving our sustainability and social impact targets, working energetically and collaboratively to reimagine a healthier future.”

The development comes after Unilever’s controversial decision to downscale its target to halve virgin plastic consumption by 2025, instead aiming for one-third by 2026. Many have opposed the decision, fearing that it will result in a further 100,000 tons of fresh plastic being produced every year; others believe that revising its goals is a sensible and realistic business decision.

Back in 2021, Gartner predicted that 90% of sustainable packaging commitments for 2025 would not be met. According to senior director and analyst John Blake, “high-level or trending sustainable packaging goals” have been “indiscriminately selected” as corporate commitments by various organizations, leading many to fall short.

Gartner went on to suggest that, by 2026, 20% of organizations would prioritize carbon emission reductions over recyclability and plastic elimination goals.

Colgate-Palmolive aims to achieve net zero carbon by 2040, but currently maintains its other targets for 2025. These include reducing its absolute use of virgin plastic by one-third against a 2019 baseline; it plans to do so through lightweighting and redesign, as well as increasing its use of post-consumer recycled resin, alternative materials, and new product forms – particularly focusing on at-home refills. By weight, 1.1% of its packaging was said to be reusable or refillable as of 31st December 2023.

Another goal is to eliminate unnecessary and ‘problematic’ packaging by 2025. Colgate-Palmolive claimed to reduce its plastic packaging by 21.4% against a 2019 baseline, with less than 1% of its packaging, by weight, now considered to be unnecessary or ‘problematic’ (as opposed to less than 0.5% in 2022). It explains that PVC has been eliminated from its operations, while ‘problematic’ components like polystyrene and certain black colour plastics have been reduced.

Its fourth goal for 2025 is to use at least 25% post-consumer recycled plastic in its packaging. Apparently, the figure has increased from 14.2% in 2021 to 14.6% in 2022, and now to 18% in 2023.

Even so, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment progress report for 2022 expressed that most business signatories would ‘almost certainly’ miss their targets to achieve reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging by 2025.

If you liked this story, you might also enjoy:

The Brief: How viable is biorecycling for plastics?

Report: How the top brands are progressing on packaging sustainability

The Brief: Using ocean-bound plastic in packaging – how, why and should we?

Sustainable Packaging Summit: Is the world on track to tackle plastic pollution? Reflecting on five years of the Global Commitment