End Markets | 4 MINUTE READ

Consumer Goods Company RB, TerraCycle Talk Plastics Recycling Initiatives

TerraCycle and RB, maker of consumer brands including Mucinex and Enfamil, discuss ways the companies are working toward a circular economy. 


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A big component in working toward a circular economy involves brand owners—a topic we will look more closely at this year. 

RB, maker of consumer brands including Mucinex and Enfamil, is partnering with international recycling provider TerraCycle. The launch of the free recycling program comes at an especially relevant time—as the weather gets colder, we find ourselves in peak cold and flu season. About 79% of all households in the U.S. buy cold, cough or flu products at least once a year, and the plastic packaging for these products leaves the planet with approximately 55 million lbs of non-recyclable plastic every year, the companies stated. 

Brett Stevens, TerraCycle global VP, material sales & procurement, told Plastics Technology that cold, cough and flu products’ packaging are designed, first and foremost, with performance in mind. These are medicine-related products and so the packaging must be constructed in such a way that the content inside stays fresh and viable, he said.

“Unfortunately, this often renders the packaging to be non-municipally recyclable. Further, municipal recycling programs are incredibly picky on what they can accept, and so most packaging (not just this industry) is not traditionally recyclable,” he said. “That’s why TerraCycle operates these private collection and recycling programs to help these packages see a second life.”

terracycle recycling box

With this new initiative, cough, cold and flu packaging can now be recycled, in addition to other “hard-to-recycle” health and nutrition packaging through the RB Health and Nutrition Recycling Program.

As part of the initiative, the RB Health & Nutrition Recycling Program will accept packaging waste not only from RB products, but from any brand of vitamins and supplements, upper respiratory, sexual health & well-being, as well as infant formula & child nutrition, personal care and foot care.

Consumers sign up for the RB Health & Nutrition Recycling Program at terracycle.com/rb-health and mail in the packaging waste using the prepaid shipping label. Once received, TerraCycle will clean and melt the collected product packaging into hard plastic that can be remolded to make new recycled products. As an added incentive, for every shipment of packaging waste sent to TerraCycle, collectors earn points that can be used for charity gifts or converted to cash and donated to a non-profit, school or charitable organization of their choice. 

“Collection rates in our programs are a factor of multiple things: from client budget, to the amount of collection locations, all the way to the weight of the products and packaging that we collect,” Stevens said. “Every single piece of compliant post-consumer waste that is sent in through the RB Health & Nutrition Recycling Program will be recycled into a format where it can be used to make a new product.”

TerraCycle is known for its innovative approach to help increase recycling. They do this by offering a range of national recycling programs that allow everyone interested in making the earth a cleaner place to recycle numerous waste streams that are traditionally non-recyclable. 

finish recyclable pouch

RB worked with its suppliers to produce a new type of plastic pouch, which is recyclable.

RB’s Sustainable Initiatives

Lynn Kenney, head of corporate communications for RB, said this program with TerraCyle is part of RB’s ongoing commitment to creating a circular economy, which also includes making 100% of its packaging recyclable or reusable, while using at least 25% recycled plastic content in its packaging by 2025.

Kenney says that the company already uses material in its plastics packaging in order to deliver its 2018 plastics pledge which is about using at least 25% recycled plastic in plastic packaging globally, alongside reducing the plastics they use in packaging overall and progressively making sure it is all recyclable and can also be reused.

Design changes include its trigger spray design that can be fully recycled and the development of refill pouches in some markets so that consumers can reuse the spray bottles. They’ve also developed recyclable pouches.

Here are some examples of its work so far:

      • In 2018-2019, RB launched the first metal free trigger for improved recyclability, starting with Dettol, Sagrotan & Lysol brands. Its lightweight design reduced the amount of plastic by 500 tons on an annual basis.
      • Since January 2019, Finish has used non-carbon black technology to produce recyclable black plastic for some of its tubs. On August 19, RB moved from black to grey plastic, again improving its recyclability and including 30% recycled plastic.
      • In 2019, RB launched Veo Surface Cleaner in the U.S., which uses a removable sleeve that helps consumers properly recycle the bottle. The bottle is made from 95% recycled plastic.

“We are continuing to develop new packaging designs and working with packaging material suppliers to help use deliver our plastics pledge,” Kenney said. “Innovative design, new materials and working with our partners including retailers and, of course, listening to our consumers are critical to our success and enabling us to reduce, recycle and reuse plastics to reduce the impact it can have on the environment while also helping to deliver safe and secure packaging for our products.”