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A product’s packaging speaks volumes about the company selling it. We have always wanted consumers to notice our belief in ingredient disclosure when they pick up one of our products, but we want them to notice something else as well — the commitment to sustainability each package represents.

We try to create packaging that has a minimal impact on the environment. We reduce the amount of material we use by concentrating our liquid laundry products, offering refills (so far, just for our Baby Wipes but we are working on expanding this) and by redesigning the package itself to use less material. We favor recycled over virgin materials, and prefer materials that can be composted or recycled back into the materials stream.

High PCR Plastic Bottles: Hurrah for “Packaging Pete” Swaine who engineered huge improvements to our plastic bottle packaging in 2010 — though we still have a long way to go before we have truly sustainable packaging. First, the good news. After much experimentation, the majority of our plastic bottles now contain at least 80% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, including some of our large laundry detergent bottles — previously at 25% PCR — whose size made this work particularly difficult. Four of our bottles contain a whopping 96% PCR. This means that all the plastic is recycled; the remaining 4% is colorant. While we are way out in front on this — the industry standard is only 25% recycled plastic content — we don’t want to be using any virgin (unrecycled) plastic. We also know that only about 30% of the recyclable plastic actually gets recycled in the United States so even recyclable plastic contributes to our waste problem.

Innovating to increase the PCR of our remaining bottles and working to educate the public on recycling are important initiatives and we plan to continue this work — but it won’t bring us all the way to our 2014 goal to reduce our use of virgin plastic (which is derived from petroleum) by 80%. (Read more about our progress on this goal here.)

In early 2011, we unveiled a truly innovative solution. We debuted our new Natural 4X – that means it is concentrated at quadruple strength — Laundry Detergent. It comes in a ground-breaking molded pulp bottle with a #4 plastic (low-density polyethylene) recyclable pouch inside. This extraordinary bottle has a recyclable or compostable molded pulp outer shell. It uses 66% less plastic than previous packaging delivering the same number of loads. We anticipate that this break-through will help reduce the amount of virgin plastic we use in 2011 and 2012. Peter Swaine describes our work to develop this bottle in this video:

Better recyclability for bottle caps and plastic bags: Bottle caps have always presented a conundrum as they require a particularly flexible plastic and are usually made from polypropylene (#5 plastic). While this can easily be recycled, only about 26% of Municipal Recycling Facilities accept this plastic. 

Director of Global Strategic Sourcing Peter Swaine describes our latest collaboration, “We’re taking responsibility for our use of polypropylene by signing onto Preserve®’s Gimme 5 (#5 plastic) recycling program. Consumers whose municipal trash programs don’t accept #5 plastic will be able to bring clean, used Seventh Generation bottle caps and baby wipes tubs to bins in Whole Foods Markets and other natural food stores across the country. We’ll also be getting recycled polypropylene (PP) back from Preserve® and testing its use at various levels in our PP tubs, sprayers and caps so we can close the loop by using the highest amount of recycled material possible in these.”

We’re also providing consumers with information on our labels explaining how they can recycle the low-density polyethylene (#4 plastic or LDPE) plastic that wraps our Facial Tissue, Bathroom Tissue and Paper Towels by bringing them to plastic bag recycling bins at grocers/retailers.

Other packaging highlights:

  • We used a life cycle assessment (LCA) study to determine that a flexible pouch would be environmentally superior to a rigid plastic refill bottle.
  • All product and outer packaging boxes are now made from 100% post-consumer recycled cardboard except our baby diaper boxes and the boxes from one of our paper towel manufacturers. The U.S. standard is 40%. See the data below.
Average Cardboard Chart

PCR: post-consumer recycled content

PIR: post-industrial recycled content