Reducing plastic footprint with zero-waste toothpaste

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Reducing plastic footprint with zero-waste toothpaste


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Glass, metal, paper, corn starch—the dental industry is slowly but surely adopting more sustainable toothpaste packaging alternatives. (Photograph: Bogdan Sonjachnyj/Shutterstock)
Monique Mehler, Dental Tribune International

By Monique Mehler, Dental Tribune International

Thu. 6. June 2019


LEIPZIG, Germany: The climate change caused by human influences—such as littering and over-consumption of non-biodegradable waste products—is a reality that concerns all of us. This is why dental care should not be exempt from environmental awareness. Bamboo toothbrushes, for example, have moved into many bathrooms in the last couple of years, since they are now more easily obtainable in most chain pharmacies. But what about sustainable toothpaste?

Sustainability in demand

The new generation is constantly on the lookout for environmentally friendly alternatives, ideally without, or with more sustainable packaging. That means thoughtfully designed packaging which is compostable or reusable.

Home-made toothpaste probably constitutes the easiest way to achieve a zero-waste oral healthcare routine. For this purpose, the Internet offers various recipes. Understandably, not everyone has the time or energy to experiment with ingredients, consistencies and flavours. This does not mean, though, that convenience and sustainability have to be mutually exclusive.

The environmental impact of disposable plastic

In general, plastic toothpaste tubes contribute to a throwaway society. It is estimated that about one billion toothpaste tubes are sent to landfill sites every year and it can take hundreds of years before they even start to break down. On top of that, the tubes that end up there are filled with ingredients like sodium lauryl sulphate, triclosan, artificial dyes and preservatives that can be harmful to our health and our earth.

According to an article by Ian Johnston, environment correspondent of The Independent, “79 per cent of the plastic produced over the last 70 years has been thrown away, either into landfill sites or into the general environment. Just 9 per cent is recycled with the rest incinerated.” He continued: “With more than 8 million tonnes going into the oceans every year, it is estimated there will be more plastic than fish by 2050 and 99 per cent of all the seabirds on the planet will have consumed some. It is thought the sea now contains some 51 trillion microplastic particles—500 times more than stars in our galaxy.”

What are the alternatives?

Thinking about the unimaginable amount of waste that is being produced by such a standard routine as toothbrushing alone can be quite daunting. Luckily, many brands from around the world have recognised that plastic packaging is not the way forward and offer more sustainable alternatives. Toothpaste now comes in the form of powder or tablets, for example, without chemical additives and in glass jars with metal lids which are reusable and recyclable.

The list below includes a small range of companies and information on how their products are packaged:

  • Georganics (glass jar, UK)
  • Bite (glass jar, US)
  • Denttabs (paper laminated foil made from corn starch, Germany)
  • Davids (metal tube, US)
  • Lamanuza (cardboard box, France)
  • Zero Waste Beauty (glass jar, Australia).

But what about shipping all that glass?

The plastic industry uses the argument that shipping glass is more expensive than shipping plastic to sell itself as eco-friendly. Some companies, like Bite from the US, have thought of a way to provide their customers with a sustainable subscription model. For Bite, this means that the first order will include the product in its original packaging, a glass jar with a metal lid. Then all refill orders are sent in compostable and marine-degradable biomaterials. Orders are sent via already existing mail routes. This may take a little more time but reduces the company’s carbon footprint, which is the ultimate goal of all sustainable oral healthcare companies.

And of course, there is always the possibility of buying toothpaste without packaging in bulk and zero-waste stores. The independent think tank and open knowledge platform Bepakt has created an online index which provides a list of packaging-free grocery stores and supermarkets around the world.

The verdict

Plastic production, consumption and disposal contribute to the earth’s pollution as The Independent article explained. With so many options on the market today, there is really no excuse not to make one or two small but impactful changes.

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