Last week we swapped out our plastic toothbrushes for biodegradable bamboo ones, so it only seems natural that this week we should get our toothpaste under control.
What's wrong with regular toothpaste?
For starters, toothpaste tubes are made of mixed materials, mostly plastic, which take hundreds of years to break down. 1.5 billion toothpaste tubes are discarded worldwide every year. American consumers alone use 400 million tubes of toothpaste annually. And that's just the packaging, now let's talk ingredients.
This article from Green Matters outlines the problem with many mainstream toothpaste ingredients:
Toothpaste ingredients that are generally considered harmful include fluoride, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), carrageenan, propylene glycol, triclosan, and unnecessary additives like artificial colors and sweeteners. Triclosan is one of the worst offenders, though it has mostly been phased out of popular toothpaste products; it converts to a dioxin in the sunlight. While this isn’t as big of a deal in your bathroom, when triclosan gets down the drain and eventually to our waterways, the sunlight transforms it into dioxin, which is an extremely dangerous compound for humans and animals alike.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dioxins accumulate in fatty tissues, and over time, can cause reproductive and developmental problems in infants; dioxins are also considered endocrine disruptors and carcinogens. Even worse yet, when triclosan combines with the chlorine present in tap water, it can form chloroform – also a probable human carcinogen.
Are toothpaste tubes recyclable?
Toothpaste tubes are typically made with a mix of plastic and aluminum materials, making them a recycling nightmare. They won't be accepted in your curbside pickup, however, they can be recycled through a program sponsored by Terracycle and Colgate. All you have to do is print out a free shipping label, slap it on a box, and put it in the mail. You can send all brands of used or empty toothpaste tubes and caps, toothbrushes, toothpaste cartons, toothbrush outer packaging, and floss containers. However, electric toothbrushes, battery operated toothbrushes, and their parts cannot be recycled through this program.
What can I use instead?
Fortunately, there are an increasing number of sustainable toothpaste options on the market. These days, you can find everything from toothpaste tabs to recyclable tubes. I've compiled a list of 10 Sustainable Toothpaste Options to make it easier for you to find a suitable match. Or, if you prefer, try Making Your Own Toothpaste with this step-by-step guide.