Tubes Answer the Call for More Sustainable Packaging Options

Packaging World’s Jim Chrzan and Packaging Digest’s Lisa McTigue Pierce met with Tube Council members to chart green milestones for paper tubes, mono-layer plastics, sugar cane, and recycled aluminum.

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Stéphane Beauchemin, VP of Sales & Marketing, Plastube, Inc.: Good morning, everyone. I'm Stefan Beauchemin may from class to also the president of the two console. I'll be the moderator for today. So as as Steve said, we're very lucky to have Lisa McTigue and Jim Chrzan. Thank you. They will be sharing information with us and responding to your questions.

Jim Chrzan, VP of Content & Brand Strategy, PMMI Media Group: Like Stephen was saying, I'm with Packaging World and Healthcare Packaging. And we largely are looking at food and beverage markets, although we do a lot of health and beauty, as you will see. For subjects as we discuss today, we call it “Tubes in the News”. And when tubes are covered, it's not that another brand has launched or there’s a tube in the SKU family. It is either something design or dispensing wise, or innovative materials. And so lately, starting 2020/20212022, most of our tube news is about sustainability. And there's quite a lot on paper tubes as we see those growing as well. 

So before we start, I just wanted to do something this morning when I woke up and it was “Tubes Around My Home.” And I went down to my wife's art table and there are quite a few different kinds of paints in tubes. But, interestingly enough, there were no tubes in our kitchen. And I know that in Europe, of course, tubes are quite a big deal. They've been having their condiments served out of tubes for years. And we've never gotten quite gotten there. But here you go, in CCN travel they’re talking about lasagna in a tube. And it's more of a light fluff piece about a rarity in the United States, although you do see some gourmet paste and things like that.

So what makes the news and healthcare packaging? Well, Pharmapack won a Sustainability Award for a mono-material barrier tube. And what's really interesting is that you start to see claims being made—here's a carbon footprint reduction by up to 38%. Who checked it? We're not sure and the public is somewhat skeptical that there's either greenwashing going on or they'd like to have a little bit more information about where the claims come from. But the best thing about this tube is it’s designed for recyclability, they are appealing to the 30-40% of consumers who want to feel good about their choices and they're willing to spend more sometimes for those choices. So this will be a theme that we continue on with.

What are you doing about it and how are you communicating it to the customer? This is a Henkel beauty care product and they're talking about metal tubes and 100% recycled aluminum, 95% less energy. We were having a discussion right before we came on about how this is so very difficult to verify claims that people are making. And I don't see it anywhere on the box or the tube that either came from recycled materials—though it may be in there somewhere. But it certainly isn't front and center as the offering on the shelf.

We talked about a lot of paper tubes being discussed. And this one has an ultra-thin coating inside (and out) to keep the product from leaking through. What is that coating do to the recyclability or the eco-footprint of that package? Also, we talk about a paper board disc glued—what kind of glue and what happens to the glue in the recycling process? So you start to see just how complex the picture is. Again, you know, beautiful designs on paper tubes.

This is a cannabis dissolvable THC powder, I guess a new one on me. But notice that second paragraph—the primary packages of foil sachet—it's not even the primary package that’s the paper tube. So there's a lot at work there and how you deal with the recyclability or where they're discussing that with the consumer remains to be seen. 

This is a great polyfoil dropper tube for vitamin D. I love it because barrier protection is there, meter dosing, closure, and easy to handle portability—which consumers say they really like. They want to be on the go, be able to do their eyedrops (or whatever else) and not make a big deal out of it.

Sugar cane based or biomass materials you're hearing more about. This lid is also 100% recyclable. And again, looking at the package itself, I see a lot of oral care messages—I don't see anything about the fact that this was made from sugarcane and is recyclable. It could be there, it could be on a carton that the tube goes into, but you're going to make all these efforts to launch something new and you've got to be able to communicate that.

So these shots are from Natural Products Expo that two of my editors attended a couple weeks ago in Los Angeles and I love that Kapsin tube with the big red pepper.. And of course it has to hide inside the the carton. And you can see if you examine closely, some of the paper tubes are kind of scuffed and beat up a little bit, which a brand owner wouldn't love. But it might just be that they're on the show floor and they're being exposed to a little bit more loading and unloading. But if you start to look at these, you see families of products, and those families of products—whether it's haircare or skincare beauty— includes tubes, but it also includes jars and bottles and dispensing pumps and glass jars with droppers.

So there's a whole family of SKUs that you present as your brand, particularly in health3 and the beauty area. Well, as these CPGs get on this wagon of “We're going to take a look at everything and see what the footprint is and how it's going.” Where are the tubes going to fall in the in the discussion?

This is a Kraftika paper tube—doesn't say anything about how well it travels or how long it can last on the shelf or does it break down at all. And while the tube is paper, it looks to me like the closure is still plastic. So how do they work together?

Of course, the biggest news now is Colgate rolling out the mono-material toothpaste tube and look at the footprint that they're appealing to the consumer. It isn't about oral care. It isn't it's about Colgate. It’s about commitment to the environment. The consumer can share the experience with them by recycling this tube. And again, this doesn't appeal to everybody. But you do have consumers saying that this is a big deal to them. So that's kind of like the tube landscape as we see it.

Lisa McTigue Pierce, Executive Editor, Packaging Digest/Informa PLC: Thanks, Jim. Great overview, a snapshot of where we are in the market the current market today. Hello, everybody. I am honored to be here talking with you today. And I am also at the lucky because the last couple of years I've been able to serve as a judge for the tip of the year competition. and it is one of my favorite competitions to judge because it's a little bit of a narrow slice of the overall packaging market. But every single year, I have just been wowed with some of the developments that you've come up with the technology advancements that you've made, year to year. So, kudos to all of you, I know you guys work very hard in advancing your industry. So thank you for doing that. It gives me something really cool to write about. And I'm always looking for that.

The first question, recyclable tubes are in the market and being publicized by Colgate and other brand marketers. Tube packaging manufacturers are also promoting recyclable tubes. These packages are considered recycle ready, as they are not today being collected, sorted and made into new packaging at scale. Recycle ready is great for marketing. But there is no environmental impact until actual recycling occurs. What can the tube council or tube manufacturers do to promote the change?

Thank you for the question, Michael. So what steps need to be taken and by who? To get these recycle ready to go into the current recycling system? Because today, you are so right, it's not good enough just to be ready to be recycled. You have to be collected and recycled, even if it's in a limited closed loop program. So I guess I will, you know, maybe challenge you to ask how many of you are in closed loop programs like that? Are you collecting your empty packages and recycling them? Also, you know, for decades now, manufacturers have been very smart about reusing their industrial scrap. So how much of your material are you reintroducing into your manufacturing process? Because, quite frankly, that is recycling. And, you know, Jim mentioned a little bit earlier, the idea of greenwashing. As long as you're clear about where the recycled material is coming from, whether it's post-consumer or industrial, I think that any manufacturer who's reusing scrap material should get credit for that.

As far as like answering the question, what can you guys do to promote this change to get the tubes to be recycled more often? I would encourage you to talk with recyclers, as well as municipalities. I would talk with them directly because I think it's inevitable that tubes are going to be collected at curbside, which is the standard here for recycling in the United States. And I know this is the two Council of North America. I can only really speak from the United States perspective. I'm not as up on the Canadian or the Mexican situations. So, just in the United States, curbside is the key as far as getting into the current recycling system.

But this gives me an opportunity to just throw this idea out there, that maybe there's a larger sustainability discussion around government involvement in recycling and just waste management in general. So most of the recyclers work with municipalities, and the waste management is managed by companies, but through the auspices of the local governments. They’re not always looking at it from a for-profit perspective. This is a service that they provide to citizens. And I know that the recyclers have been looking at this as a for-profit business, always. And that's one of the reasons why we're in a little bit of a pickle right now with recycling in the United States is the business. The business of it is a little off kilter right now. And there's a lot of reasons for that.

But I'm just wondering, if consumers and product manufacturers, and even further upstream, and the packaging manufacturers yourselves will have enough incentive to kind of, you know, do the right thing, from a waste management recycling point of view, if it's not managed by the government. So I know that's like a huge overview, idea topic, to kind of consider, but it is something that I've been thinking about. I think that businesses can do a better job at recycling than local governments. And that's just my opinion.