Zero Waste Toothpaste: The Lowdown on 3 Options

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Zero Waste Toothpaste: Facts

It may look like a small thing, but can you imagine how much zero waste toothpaste and oral care, in general, will do?

Think about it. We use toothpaste AT LEAST twice a day (hopefully!) every day of the year. The routine is basic for most people that it's hard to imagine not brushing the teeth even one day.

Tally that up and the estimates are staggering - worldwide, as much as 1.5 billion tubes of toothpaste join the landfill pile or the marine systems every year. And that's just the plastic tubes from toothpaste creams. We also use and discard millions of plastic toothbrushes annually - that’s another article in itself!

No wonder the plastic waste predictions are dire. According to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, plastic will literally take over the seas by 2050, with more plastic than marine life by that time.

So back to zero waste toothpaste. It makes sense to try and do better with our oral care. After all, it's something that we do every day, and so creates a lot of waste.

There are two big reasons why traditional tooth brushing may clean the teeth but harm the environment in the process.

One is the plastic packaging that we've mentioned. Recycling can't do much about the plastic waste from our toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes, either. There are a lot of bureaucratic and technological barriers to recycling. And with something like a toothpaste tube, in particular, that's made of multi-layered materials (e.g., metal, aluminum, and plastic) that's simply impossible to separate and make it recyclable.

Two is the toothpaste cream itself. Most formulations available in the market contain some harmful ingredients to the environment. These are the ones to watch out for:

Triclosan - this is an antibacterial component but is one that has far too many consequences for health and the environment. It's actually removed from most toothpaste formula now. Triclosan turns into dioxin when exposed to sunlight. Dioxin is highly toxic to animals and humans. It's also linked to antibiotic resistance and thyroid hormone disruption.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) - this is a common synthetic detergent. It foams up and loosens the surface dirt in teeth. The problem is that it's not only toxic to aquatic animals but also can cause skin irritation and respiratory tract issues to humans.

Fluoride - fluoride is a polarizing ingredient. Yes, it is widely known to prevent cavities and promote tooth health. But there are serious side effects linked to the ingredient. Skeletal fluorous and discoloration on teeth are the main ones. But these side effects occur only with high-level exposure, and not really through standard oral care routine. 

Traditional toothpaste creams also contain artificial coloring, microbeads (for abrasiveness), and sweeteners (for minty taste).

Zero Waste Toothpaste: 3 Options

We've done the math. And the stats suggest that brushing our teeth in our lifetime can contribute to a huge amount of plastic waste. So if there are zero waste toothpaste options, why not take advantage, right?

Zero waste toothpaste, to be viable, should solve the two issues relating to traditional toothpaste: packaging and synthetic ingredients. It has to use plastic-free packaging, and it must contain earth-friendly ingredients - all while contributing to oral health.

Plastic-Free Toothpaste Cream

There are a number of non-synthetic toothpaste cream formula out there, like Dr Bronner's brand. Their toothpaste products are certified vegan, non-gmo, and uses only organic and fair trade ingredients. But, these still come in plastic tube packaging, which will not solve the issue of discarded plastic waste. 

For plastic-free, certain brands like Goodwell offer toothpaste cream in a sugarcane-based packaging. Davids is another option with fluoride-free, sulfate-free toothpaste in a recyclable aluminum tube.

Do take note that unless you will cut open the toothpaste cream tube, there's product left inside. In fact, as much as 10% toothpaste cream is left even when you think you squeezed out all of it. So, zero waste toothpaste tip for creams? Cut the tube open and use up every bit of the product!

Zero Waste Toothpaste Tablets

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Toothpaste tablets are also gaining traction as a zero waste product for oral care. Toothpaste tablets look like mints. Chew on them first, then introduce your wet toothbrush and start brushing. It will foam like traditional toothpaste.

Tablets generally solves the packaging problem because it uses glass containers. As we know, compared to plastic, glass has a much higher recyclability rate.

Toothpaste tablets, like the ones from Huppy,  are also made without water. That means lower water consumption, fewer or no preservatives needed, and lower impact shipping! Huppy also uses compostable packaging.

But there are still drawbacks to toothpaste tablets. Because they have little to no preservatives, they don't last long. The shelf life of most toothpaste tablets is around 24 months. Way shorter than cream toothpaste formula.

And in one study that did a life cycle assessment of toothpaste cream vs toothpaste tablets for a 6-month period, the results were surprising. Using toothpaste tablets were more burdensome for the environment - except in freshwater and marine ecotoxicity, human toxicity, and water use. Apparently, ingredient production, namely with sorbitol, mannitol, and magnesium stearate, produced higher carbon footprint compared to ingredients in the toothpaste cream.

One solution the researchers posed is to make the tablets smaller, and explore how to improve the sourcing of the ingredients. 

Zero Waste Tooth Powder

Tooth powder has been around since ancient times, thought the formulations have changed. When before, people used burnt eggshells, myrrh, and oyster shells, now there are active ingredients used in manufactured tooth powders.

Like toothpaste tablets, tooth powder solves the packaging problem.  They usually come in plastic-free packaging like cans and glass jars. Tooth powder also does away with water in the product itself, which means there's less impact when it is shipped and stored.

One brand, Simply Sooney Organic Tooth Powder has cinnamon, clove, bentonite clay, peppermint, and non-GMO xylitol in its product. It's fluoride-free and no artificial compounds, and comes in a glass jar with a metal lid.

To use toothpaste powder, scoop some out of the jar and dip your damp toothbrush into the powder. The powder will then turn paste-like while you are brushing inside the mouth.

Healthline compared toothpaste cream and tooth powder. While tooth powder can clean stains and plaque effectively, it usually won't contain ingredients like fluoride that fight cavities. If that's a big deal for you, you may want to stick with toothpaste cream. In addition, tooth powders have no ADA seal of acceptance, which will not guarantee effectiveness for oral care.

Zero Waste Toothpaste: The Takeaway

Brushing our teeth is an ingrained practice for us modern folks, and we won't be foregoing it anytime soon. 

Our use of toothpaste matters once we have an entire picture of how much waste accumulates from toothpaste tubes. Fortunately, there are zero waste options that could give less harmful impact on the environment.

Find out which zero waste toothpaste works for you!

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