Our New 96% Postconsumer Resin (PCR) Bottles
If you've ever wondered what happens to all those milk jugs you recycle, look no further than your kitchen sink. It takes about three-quarters of a milk jug to make one of our 25 ounce 96% recycled hand dishwashing liquid bottles. Director of Global Strategic Sourcing Peter Swaine discusses our sustainable packaging and his proudest achievement — our 96% Postconsumer Resin (PCR) bottles:
"Our packaging is the first thing our consumers see and the last thing they touch. It's important that it reflect the sustainability of our products. That's why I switched to work on packaging a few years ago; I thought we could be doing a lot better. Our packaging wasn't living up to the great products we were putting inside.
Our bottles are high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the same plastic in milk jugs, not polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic used for water bottles. It takes less energy to make HDPE bottles than PET ones, according to a 2010 Franklin Associates study, so we're off to a good start. The cornerstone of our approach to sustainable bottles is a commitment to improving each bottle's PCR content so we can avoid the need to take any more petroleum out of the ground and to make use of bottles that would otherwise end up in landfills. We wanted to take our 25% PCR bottles and bring them all the way up to 90% PCR (as of March 2011, these bottles are now 96% PCR). This means that the plastic in the bottles would be 100% recycled content; the remainder of the bottle contains calcium carbonate, which adds strength, and titanium dioxide, which adds the white color that signals to recycling centers that it is an HDPE bottle.
No major household-products company had done this. California law requires 25% PCR content, so that’s the industry baseline, and there are a few small HDPE bottles that are 50% PCR, but we are forging new ground. At Seventh Generation, we don’t manufacture our own bottles so, we need to find creative partners who can support us in making bold changes. Consolidated Container Company (CCC) pledged to make a significant investment in time and equipment toward this effort despite our relatively low volume. Once our new molds were developed, there was a painstaking period of failed tests (PCR is not as flexible as virgin plastic) and tweaking that was necessary before we were satisfied we had successfully pushed the technological limits.
Join Peter as he visits the Burlington, Vermont materials recycling facility in this video.
Now the same hand dishwashing liquid we improved so dramatically in 2009 comes in a new 90% PCR bottle, up from 25%. Our fabric softener and nonchlorine bleach are also at 90% PCR, up from 75%. In 2010, our spray cleaner bottles will be at 90%. CCC was initially a bit hesitant about embracing our project, but now they realize the value in such high-recycled-content bottles. It’s great to see that their latest catalog has a section about high-PCR content and Seventh Generation bottles.
My priority for 2010 is to bring our laundry bottles up to 90% PCR. All the technological hurdles we ran into last year with the bottles for our cleaners are multiplied manyfold with these larger bottles. In addition to getting the plastic to mold precisely around the handles, these bottles must be much stronger to hold the greater product weight. If we can get the laundry bottles up to 90% PCR, we can do anything. My other goal is to introduce a more sustainable solution for our bottle caps.”
Other Packaging Improvements in 2009
All our product boxes and the boxes for our outer packaging are now 100% postconsumer recycled (PCR) content, except for our baby diaper boxes and the boxes at one of our paper towel manufacturers. Our goal is to convert these from 40% to 100% PCR in 2011.
After learning that the paper labels for our plastic bottles interfere with the plastic recycling stream, we switched to biaxially oriented polypropylene labels in 2009. These are recommended by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers as they are compatible with the current recycling infrastructure. These labels have a slightly higher cost, showing that sometimes we have to pay more for the more sustainable option.