Reduce plastic waste from toothpaste by finding Eco-friendly alternatives.
The bathroom is a place where we generate a great deal of plastic waste and getting rid of toothpaste tubes can significantly reduce this. Maybe you don’t think that your toothpaste is a problem for the environment. Most people clean their teeth twice a day, often with a plastic toothbrush and use a nylon floss at least daily. In fact you can significantly reduce your plastic waste by changing your habits in the bathroom!
Add to this the plastic toothpaste tubes we all throw away as most people don’t recycle these, and it adds up to a lot of environmental plastic waste. On average, it takes 500 years for a toothpaste tube to fully biodegrade in landfill, meaning that every tube you have used in your lifetime could still be out there in a big hole in the ground.
Why is toothpaste a problem?
Since it first appeared in 1898, tubular toothpaste has been a bit of an environmental catastrophe. Conventional toothpaste tubes aren’t easy to recycle.
They’re usually made from different types of plastics, including the cap, and they’re sometimes laminated with a metal layer, which can be another big barrier to recycling. This means tubes can end up in landfill and fragment over time.
Every year millions of plastic toothpaste tubes are discarded into landfill and our oceans. In Australia alone, approximately 50 million toothpaste tubes go to landfill each year. Imagine the impact of just this one plastic globally!! This is adding significantly to our planet’s plastic waste problem. Globally we have started to recognize and address other causes such as plastic bags but yet we still accept toothpaste tubes as the norm.
On top of this toothpaste contains up to 40% water and fresh water is becoming a scarcity globally. Again, we are addressing this issue in other industries but we all just accept toothpaste comes in liquid form…. but it doesn’t have to!!!
By changing your routine and changing to Eco-friendly toothpaste alternatives, you are saving litres of fresh water every year, which is yet another win for the planet!
Toothpaste also pollutes with toxic chemicals
In order for toothpaste to complete its job of cleaning the teeth, it must contain some kind of chemicals. While traditional toothpaste is effective at removing and preventing plaque build-up, preventing cavities, and fighting gum inflammation, a lot of its ingredients are not safe.
Some chemicals in toothpaste are problematic, leaking into rivers, lakes and oceans downstream, causing serious water pollution. Think of most people brushing their teeth twice a day and multiply that by 26 million people just in Australia. That’s a lot of possible toxic waste into our waterways. One of the ingredients of toothpaste, sodium pyrophosphate, is responsible for preventing tartar build-up. However, it contains phosphorus which is the reason for excessive algal growth in waterways when used water is drained down the sink. Those decomposing algae take away oxygen from the water, creating a huge dead zone where no marine animals or bacteria can live.
What toxic ingredients are in traditional toothpaste?
Many chemicals in tube toothpaste are toxic, and in the past also contained plastic micro beads which helped clean the teeth due to a slight abrasive quality. The Micro beads were released into waterways and ingested by wildlife. Thankfully, most brands have now removed micro beads and replaced with other ingredients, but these may be toxic which adds another problem! Some of the most problematic chemicals are listed below:
Parabens are used to preserve the shelf life of a range of cosmetics, including toothpaste. The Food and Drug Administration is still evaluating the safety of parabens due to the limited information on the topic. Some sites also claim that parabens are linked to developmental and reproductive issues, however this has yet to be confirmed. With such limited information on the safety of this ingredient, it would sensible to steer clear of it in toothpaste.
Diethanolamine (DEA) is a product that can be found in antifreeze and brake fluid. In a 1998 study, the topical application of DEA has been linked to cancer in animals.
Artificial Sweeteners – There are currently inconsistent and contrary studies on the effects of artificial sweeteners (e.g. saccharin and aspartame) on the body. As there is no conclusive evidence to support effects on the body, it is best to switch to natural sugar replacements
Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) can cause skin irritation and can aggravate ulcers
Propylene glycol is used to improve a products shelf life, appearance and texture. In large quantities it has been linked to damage of the central nervous system, liver and heart. Propylene glycol can be found in items we use daily like cosmetics, flavourings and prescription drugs. It might be wise to avoid over consumption by ensuring this ingredient is not in our everyday toothpaste routine.
Triclosan is an ingredient that can be found in toothpaste, body wash, antibacterial soaps and cosmetics. It has been linked to thyroid issues and skin cancer, but studies have not been conclusive. With such uncertainty evolving around triclosan, it might be best to avoid this ingredient in your toothpaste.
So whats the alternative?
Eco-friendly dental products can a good solution to reducing plastic and chemical waste, as long as they protect your dental health.
I looked for a suitable toothpaste alternative when I decided to continue to reduce plastic waste and was targeting my bathroom waste.
Many of the alternatives had questionable benefits for my dental health and were unpleasant to use. Toothpaste powders are messy and as you need to dip a damp toothbrush into the powder, not particularly hygienic! Many toothpaste tablets actively flaunt their fluoride-free status, and that’s a worry because research suggests fluoride-free oral care products, often marketed as “natural”, tend to increase cavities.
Finally I came across a brand of toothpaste tablets developed by an Australian dentist – Dr Robb toothpaste tablets. (Formally known as Chews)
Toothpaste Tablets are a great alternative to reduce plastic and toxic waste!
I chose Dr Robb toothpaste tablets after trying some other Eco-friendly alternatives. The fact that these tablets have been developed by a dentist, gives me confidence that I will be able to maintain my dental health and also reduce my impact on the environment.
Another benefit of using toothpaste tablets for myself at least, is that I no longer have toothpaste leaking onto my vanity or sticking to my sink! Toothpaste tablets are also great for travelling as toothpaste also has a tendency to leak into your bag!
Ingredients in Dr Robb’s toothpaste tablets are much healthier!
Calcium Carbonate – Found in rocks, chalk, coral, limestone, marble… This is slightly abrasive to help remove staining and give you a shiny smile! The calcium also combines with fluoride and phosphate to fill in any holes made by bacteria.
Sodium Bicarbonate – This ingredient foams well which helps to carry minerals around the mouth allowing all your teeth to repair. It is slightly abrasive which helps to remove staining and plaque. It is safe to use and reduces acidity in mouth… acid attacks teeth and forms holes so this is really bloody useful!!
Mint – these tablets contain peppermint which is not only be good for us and the environment but also taste good! Peppermint is also known to have other health benefits.
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (SCI) -This is what makes the toothpaste tablets foamy and pleasant to taste. Unlike some other hygiene foaming products this ingredient doesn’t contain sulphates. SCI is derived from coconut oil…..it doesn’t get more natural than that!
Sodium Fluoride – Fluoride is found naturally in fresh water and is the 13th most common element in the earth’s crust. Fluoride is even found in our oceans at similar levels to our drinking water! Fluoride is found in foods such as tea and fish. It is also a major component of our bones and teeth. In nature it can be found bonded to other elements inside rocks and soil. It is amazing because it combines with phosphate and calcium in our saliva to fill in any holes caused by the acids when we eat.
Mannitol – found in fruits, leaves and other plants. It is derived from cornstarch and is resistant to oral bacteria so wont damage your teeth. It helps reduce tooth decay development and safe to use.
Tri-Calcium Phosphate – this is a vital mineral for tooth repair. It is a natural element found in rocks and when combined with Calcium and Fluoride in saliva, helps fill in holes in the teeth made by bacteria.
Silica – a natural element found in such minerals as quartz. In small quantities it can safely remove staining and gives you a whiter smile!
Stevia Rebaudiana Leaf Extract – tastes sweet and is safe to use on teeth.
Magnesium Stearate – is a natural lubricant and stops all the other ingredients from sticking together. Stearate is made from veggie oil and found in foods such as coconut. Magnesium is a natural mineral.
How to use toothpaste tablets
Toothpaste tablets are easy to use, but will take a few goes to get used to. Simply chew the tablet into a paste then brush your teeth normally. Your teeth will feel beautifully clean and these tablets have a fresh minty taste.
Other Eco-friendly changes
Switching your regular toothbrush to an environmentally friendly bamboo toothbrush helps reduce the millions of plastic toothbrushes that wind up in landfill every year.
Toothbrushes made from bamboo help preserve forests as bamboo grows rapidly and is self renewing. The toothbrush can be composted – except for the head if the bristles are nylon.
Similarly, there are also dental floss brands out there derived from plant materials. As some flosses made from nylon also contain chemicals, a plant based alternative is better for you. The only issue I have found with the natural dental floss is that they are slightly thicker, so if your teeth are very close together, they may not be suitable for you.
Check on the internet and health food stores for toothpaste alternatives and you will find the right one for you.
Check out a previous blog on recycling plastic