CamelBak says it has a “big hairy audacious goal” of eliminating disposable plastic bottles. And while it’s made inroads toward achieving that goal since it was established in 1989, Phil Notheis, director of product management, hardgoods, at the Petaluma, California-based company, says it has been more challenging for CamelBak to incorporate recycled content in its products—until now.
CamelBak is known for making durable hydration products, from its original hydration and day packs to bisphenol A- (BPA-) free bottles. “One of the best things we can do for the environment is keep our stuff longer,” he says. “That is why we have been working with Eastman for as long as we have.”
Kingsport, Tennessee-based Eastman supplies CamelBak with Tritan, a copolyester that the company uses to make its hard plastic bottles. The material offers clarity, chemical resistance, impact strength and other performance advantages, according to Eastman. Recently, with the introduction of Tritan Renew, one more attribute has been added to this list: recycled content.
Eastman manufactures Tritan Renew with as much as 50 percent chemically recycled content. (See “Change at the molecular level” for more information.) CamelBak is among the first of Eastman’s customers to use Tritan Renew, and it is helping the company meet the demands of its customers, Notheis says.
Meeting consumer demand
“Helping someone’s life be more sustainable is not enough,” he says. “Consumers expect more from companies and are pressuring us to take responsibility for our products at the end of life. We are starting that journey now, to be honest. Eastman is helping us take a quicker leap forward on that than we ever imagined.”
CamelBak is using Tritan Renew with 50 percent recycled content, the highest quantity that Eastman currently has available.
Notheis adds that as an outdoor brand that tries to inspire people to get outside and enjoy the environment, being at the cutting edge of sustainability issues around recycled content is something its customers expect from the company.
Taking its first steps
CamelBak says that by 2025 its products will be designed to reduce the company’s climate impact.
Its initial forays into this area include the Pivot bottle, 10 percent of which consists of a renewable, plant-based material called Echo. The Pivot bottle is part of an expansion of the commuter-oriented Pivot collection that launched in early 2019 with a focus on renewable and repurposed materials. Day packs in the Pivot line are made with 50 percent or more recycled content using single-use plastic water bottles.
Notheis says CamelBak has created an internal “badging system” for its products based on silver, gold and platinum rankings, he says, that also will be communicated to customers. By 2025, CamelBak wants all its products to have achieved silver status, though Notheis says on the hard goods side of the business that he manages, the company already has achieved gold status.
According to CamelBak, it will continually improve the design and composition of its products using sustainable materials and smart manufacturing processes, when possible, as part of its social responsibility intentions.
CamelBak also is rethinking the design of its products with the goal of allowing them to be repaired or reused more easily, particularly on the soft goods side of the business, Notheis says.
Prior to its use of Tritan Renew, when it came to recycled content in hard plastic CamelBak products, “We haven’t done a ton,” he says. However, with the adoption of Tritan Renew, he adds, “There’s only one direction to go from here.”
The company has incorporated its own manufacturing scrap into its flexible plastic products for cost savings and efficiency at the factory level. Its squeeze bottles incorporate up to 40 percent postindustrial content, while the reservoirs in its packs use 10 to 20 percent recycled material in one of their layers.
CamelBak has been “pressuring Eastman for years for more sustainable material” to use in its hard plastic bottles, Notheis says. “Now that [Tritan Renew] is here, there is not much not to be interested in. It’s a perfect solution for us.”
”Consumers expect more from companies and are pressuring us to take responsibility for our products at the end of life. We are starting that journey now, to be honest. Eastman is helping us take a quicker leap forward on that than we ever imagined.” – Phil Notheis, director of product management, hardgoods, CamelBak
While CamelBak has explored using other materials to make its hard plastic bottles, including mechanically recycled content and plant-based materials, Notheis says these materials were “laden with compromise.” He says using Tritan Renew involves “no compromise from a durability, clarity or safety standpoint.”
Eastman has been a great partner over the years, Notheis says, with the companies initially having partnered in 2008 to bring the first BPA-free bottle to the market.
Courtland Jenkins, commercial director, Eastman Specialty Plastics, says, “Phil and CamelBak have pushed us hard” to come up with a more sustainable polymer for use in CamelBak products. “They knew where [the] market was going and wanted us to get there.”
CamelBak is using Tritan Renew across its hard bottle line, which Notheis describes as “a major part of our business.” He adds, “It really moves our sustainability goals and initiatives forward in a pretty major way.”
The next frontier
Notheis acknowledges that the company can do “a lot better” in terms of packaging and end-of-life initiatives for its products.
“Not all products have a clear way for consumers to deal with that product at end of life,” he says. “Eastman’s new [chemical recycling] technology opens doors to new opportunities there, which we haven’t explored.”
Communicating the recyclability of its products is “the next frontier” for the company, Notheis says. Because many of CamelBak’s products are not recyclable through curbside programs, the company is making sure people know and understand that by adding information to its website. CamelBak also is exploring adding the How2Recycle label to its packaging.
Additionally, Notheis says CamelBak is trying to ensure that its products are easily disassembled for recycling.
“We know we need to make changes,” he says, which also means creating ways to get its products back into the circular economy. “We are doing what we can internally” to recycle products that come back to the company through product returns and its warranty program with TerraCycle, Trenton, New Jersey. “We need to put programs in place to get our products back into the manufacturing stream.”