Brushing Up on Green Packaging

“Nothing Wasted. Everything Gained” is the mantra of Preserve, a Waltham, MA based company that’s dedicated to making high-performance, eco-friendly products.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. In the beauty and personal care industry, “green” buzzwords have become commonplace. While talking the talk is easy, actually providing consumers with a 100% recyclable package is certainly not, and brands, marketing agencies, and packaging professionals have been challenged with creating both products and packaging that’s good for the environment—without losing shelf appeal. Consumers today are also more demanding than they’ve ever been, and are increasingly on the lookout for environmentally friendly products. Taking a brand to the next level and making sustainability efforts tangible is something that can set a brand apart, and one has done just that—with toothbrushes.

“Nothing Wasted. Everything Gained.” This is the mantra of Preserve, a Waltham, MA based company that’s dedicated to making high-performance, eco-friendly products. The company’s flagship product, which launched in 1997, is the Preserve toothbrush. Made from recycled No. 5 plastic, the kind of plastic used in the typical yogurt cup, the Preserve toothbrush, after its use, is recycled by the company and then turned into plastic lumber, a material that’s used to make items such as picnic tables, park benches or porch decks, for example.

Preserve has always made its toothbrushes from No. 5 plastic, and has also always facilitated the recycling process. Since its inception, either through a point-of-purchase display or the Preserve website, the company has provided customers with a mailer in which they could load No. 5 plastic products, including the used toothbrush, and send it back to the company for recycling. But this year Preserve has stepped it up a notch, while continuing to use the U.S. Postal Service as a recycling tool.

In addition to manufacturing truly sustainable products, Preserve prides itself on its industry partnerships. In looking for a company to partner with in creating an expanded recycling endeavor, Preserve teamed up with Continuum, a global innovation design consultancy headquartered in Boston. Together, the two came up with a new packaging concept–The Mail-Back Pack. This lightweight package encases and protects the toothbrush, as well as presents the product at point-of-sale. And it doubles as a return envelope. Consumers simply return the toothbrush after use to its original package and mail it back to Preserve, free of charge (for the first 250,000 units sold), so it can begin its next life stage. Then, as has always been the case, Preserve turns the toothbrushes into plastic lumber material.

Dean Whitney, a brand strategist at Continuum, talks about how the firm and Preserve came together on the concept. “Preserve is a company that’s doing very honorable things. And when you’re a company of that size—and they’ve launched some successful products—they tend to need a full-service design and innovation company to bring the products to the next level,” he says. “They came to us with the toothbrush design and the packaging—it was initially a clear plastic tube that was meant to be reused; it wasn’t a mail-back at all. The idea was, don’t throw it out, reuse it. So they began looking at new packaging ideas, and we came up with the mail-back program.”

Because this is a point-of-sale item, the packaging had to be attractive to make it work. “That was kind of a tricky part,” Whitney says, “How do you make a toothbrush attractive at the point of sale in a non-clear package?” We had two concerns: using an opaque package, and ‘can you mail back toothbrushes in the mail?’ We spent a lot of time mailing toothbrushes back and forth through the mail.”

The verbiage on the package was another concern, Whitney adds. “If you put the word ‘recycle’ next to a toothbrush, you just want to make sure you’re careful about it—people may think, “is the whole thing recycled?” Did someone have it before me?”

Eric Hudson, Preserve’s CEO, talks about the transition to the Mail-Back Pack. “We’ve always made our toothbrush from 100% recycled materials and we’ve always made it recyclable. What has changed and what has advanced is our vehicle—how we present it on the shelf, the beauty of the graphics, and letting the graphics speak for themselves, rather than having to see the toothbrush. The major points that we bring forward as far as the value presentation to the consumer is how the toothbrush is made from recycled materials and is recycled, and also this great lightweight package that uses less resources and is also completely recycled with the product on the other side,” Hudson says, adding that both the packaging and the product can be recycled together.

To execute the packaging, Preserve went to Printpack, a flexible packaging specialist headquartered in Atlanta, GA. “The plastic package is made from a combination of polypropylene and polyethylene and that’s generally the mix of our materials,” explains Hudson. “So we grind all that up and it can be turned into a lot of value products. We love that connection with being able to make an eco-friendly product afterwards. Printpack helped with the development and really got into the material side of things, assisting with the structure and the manufacturing.”

Preserve launched the new Mail-Back Pack Toothbrush at Whole Foods in January 2010 and at Target on April 21, Earth Day. The results reveal that consumers have taken notice. Within three weeks of the launch with a leading retailer, Hudson says, the package is outselling Preserve’s previous package by 37%.

“Consumers have been dramatically more supportive than we thought,” adds Whitney. “We’re not asking them to change behaviors to be environmentally responsible.”

Preserve’s partnerships play a key role in educating and enabling consumers in regard to sustainability. For example, Whole Foods and Preserve have established the Gimme 5 Recycling program. Here, consumers have the opportunity to drop off all of their No. 5 plastic products at participating Whole Foods stores, where they’re then shipped off to Preserve for recycling. The Mail-Back Pack is an extension of the company’s efforts to keep No. 5 plastic out of the landfill.

“Our customers have known us for years, so they’re saying ‘Awesome, now you’re giving me the mailer as part of the package rather than giving me the mailer as a separate part.’ They’re pleased with the convenience—and the eco-effort with the recycling being part of the package,” Hudson adds.

For more information on Preserve, visit