Approaching the subject of sustainable toothpaste packaging is like entering a room with no doors or windows or like trying to land a helicopter on quicksand or any metaphor that speaks to not being able to see the way really…
I am unspeakably irritated by it. It’s horrible and complex. (I just flail internally, I do.)
I will try and explain why.
I wanted to find a toothpaste that didn’t involve non-recyclable plastic or any plastic even. The journey I subsequently went on combined writing to a few companies and galloping haplessly through the Google Forest so I’m not claiming any sure and certain knowledge here.
What I gather is that we don’t recycle toothpaste tubes because like Pringles they’re a fusion of different materials that need to be separated in order to be recycled. So I assume they all go to landfill. We’ve got a population of 65 million give or take so that’s a lot of toobs….
The possible exception to this is pump action tubes, which apparently are easier to recycle.
Looking for alternatives led me to brands that offered recyclable packaging but at a cost that immediately takes them off the table for most people, given the average price of toothpaste comes in at a couple of quid (or more if you’re buying into something pro-enamel and complicated involving whitening.) But if you want to explore this, I give you ‘Prabhupada’, which is apparently the first truly bioplastic toothpaste tube. You can get it via a site called allVeggie but have to order 15 tubes at a time. (It’s in Sweden.) Or Georganics (smells of wholesome purity and promise) which comes in a glass jar with metal lid. It will set you back about £7 and may challenge your notions on what the texture of toothpaste is all about. And oddly, comes with a miniature plastic spatula. Oh, and that strip of unnecessary plastic around the lid to prove it hasn’t been tampered with.
There’s also Weleda toothpaste, which again is more expensive (around £4/5) but their tubes are made of aluminium, which they say are recyclable.
I’m going to check in with Edinburgh Council about all this because it is not clear to me what they will take in the tube realm and I will report back.
Another point of interest is that in the US, Colgate got together with Terracycle to create recycling programmes for oral stuff, including all those pesky toothpaste tubes. However, although the latter offer programmes for a variety of ‘waste streams in the UK,’ toothpaste tubes are not one of them. I asked.
So the technology exists but again environmentally, it doesn’t appear to be very high on the agenda. What’s a planet, after all? (Sorry. Sometimes agitation makes me sarcastic.)
A little light here is that Colgate-Palmolive, which you may already know, have committed to delivering 100% recyclable packaging in their ‘personal care, home care and Hill’s pet nutrition categories’ by 2020. (What is it about Hill’s pet nutrition, I hear you ask?)
That leaves other possible routes of exploration including making my own toothpaste. There are oodles of recipes online. I will attempt this but I’m very culturally pre-conditioned to foam at the mouth (as it were) so this is not my first choice.
Over a bite yesterday, a visiting friend also spoke wistfully about the merits of refillable bottles. Of course! (But I couldn’t find anyone online doing that.)
So there’s a little glimmer…and here and there, the wheels of progress are turning, albeit slowly, but I’m not sure how impressed Yoda would be with all this.