Procter & Gamble's Tide laundry detergent brand first introduced in January 2019 its "Eco-Box," which has been compared to a wine box because of its design made from paperboard with a tap for dispensing, in an effort to reduce the plastic in its packaging. In mid-May, the Eco-Boxes are becoming available for other fabric care product lines, including Tide purclean, Downy, Gain and Dreft.
The initiatives are related to P&G's current sustainability goals introduced in 2018, Ambition 2030, which include a commitment to make its packaging 100 percent recyclable or reusable by 2030.
Each business unit within P&G has its own approach, and the Eco-Box was one way P&G’s Fabric Care division set out to meet its packaging goal.
To be clear, the Eco-Box package still includes plastic — with the bag that holds the liquid detergent itself — but uses 60 percent less of it than the traditional packaging for P&G’s detergent brands.
I think perfection is [figuring] out the technologies to make this so that that bag and tap are also just easy curbside recycling.
"We've moved to a huge reduction in plastic, but [the plastic bag] not curbside-recyclable," said Todd Cline, section head for P&G Fabric Care’s research and development team.
"I think perfection is [figuring] out the technologies to make this so that that bag and tap are also just easy curbside recycling," he continued. "But there's just not technologies for that yet today, to create bags to hold liquids that are puncture-resistant and will survive all of the shipping."
In the meantime, P&G has a stopgap solution for collection and end-of-life processing in place. When the Tide Eco-Box launched, P&G partnered with TerraCycle to offer a recycling option for the inner bag. That program will continue, now including the full Eco-Box portfolio.
Cline said P&G uses life cycle assessment (LCA) to guide its work, "particularly as it comes to sustainability," noting that from an LCA standpoint, P&G is making a huge reduction in its carbon footprint and amount of plastic that's going to landfills through the Eco-Box packaging effort.
"For us, that's a technical trade-off at the start. But it's one of those that if we waited for perfection ... we would be sitting on this technology that could have a really great benefit from a sustainability standpoint, but holding it until it's perfect," Cline said, referring to the need to engage TerraCycle on collection.
When the new Eco-Box detergents hit the market — the products will be available online only from major U.S. retailers — Cline said they will continue to test and iterate on the packaging to improve it.
All paper, no plastic
In a different part of the company, P&G Beauty, the packaging strategy is likewise taking another turn away from plastic: toward all-paper packaging. Indeed, these are just two recent examples of how P&G is working to meet its 2030 goal.
"This is just one of many innovations that P&G is working on to address the problem of plastic waste. This is an important step forward, and there is much more to come," wrote Anitra Marsh, associate director of global sustainability and brand communications with P&G Beauty, by email.
Two of those beauty and personal care brands are Old Spice and Secret, which will launch all-paper packaging for their aluminum-free deodorants this month at 500 Walmart stores in the U.S.
"As the largest retailer in the world partnering with the largest deodorant and antiperspirant brands in the U.S., we know this new paperboard package has the potential to have significant positive impact and lay the groundwork for even broader impact," said Jason Kloster, senior buying manager for body care and grooming at Walmart, in a press release.
Marsh said P&G co-designed the all-paper deodorant packaging for its Secret and Old Spice products with consumers interested in cutting back on plastic waste. The package format contains 90 percent post-consumer recycled content and 10 percent new paper fibers. P&G developed package prototypes then shared the designs with consumers to see which options were "most appealing and easy to use."
P&G isn’t the only company trying to eliminate plastic packaging for deodorant. Across the pond in London, a company called Wild raised $621,775 in seed funding for its refillable no-plastic deodorant packaging — made from durable aluminum and bamboo pulp — after a successful pilot launch in 2019.
Marsh said it took less than a year to bring P&G's all-paper, plastic-free deodorant packaging to market. During the development process, the first package design did not pass a key recyclability test because the glue used for the label diminished the quality of the recycled paper pulp.
"We quickly went back to the drawing board to find another label glue that doesn’t impede recycling, and this is what we are using now in our Old Spice and Secret paper tube packages that are launching in May," she said.
The deodorant hit the shelves May 1, and P&G will continue to evaluate the recyclability and repulpability of the packaging this summer, according to Marsh.
"We are aiming for 100 percent recyclability," she said.