Can you avoid plastic tubes when buying toothpaste?
Plastic-based toothpaste tubes have always been a problem for the ethical consumer because they are typically made of a mixture of plastic and aluminium which makes them hard to recycle.
Increasingly, the tubes are being made of HDPE plastic, which is, in theory, recyclable. Most manufacturers are working towards all their toothpaste ranges being recyclable by 2025.
That’s a lot of unrecyclable toothpaste tubes that are still being sold and sent to landfill. 300m a year in the UK, to be precise. Enough to circle the globe twice. And that’s just in the UK.
Of our Best Buys and Recommended brands that use plastic:
- Kingfisher has already converted all its tubes to HDPE.
- Green People has one variety (Fresh Mint & Aloe Vera) in an HDPE tube.
- Lush pots are made from 100% recycled polypropylene and can be returned to shops for recycling.
If your tube has a recycling symbol with the number 2 in it, then it is made from recyclable HDPE. But check to see whether your local authority recycles them. Some local authorities still don’t accept them in household recycling, even though they are made of recyclable HDPE like your milk bottles and shampoo bottles which are accepted.
If your local authority doesn’t accept HDPE tubes, take them to the Recycle at Boots scheme which takes a range of other hard-to-recycle toiletry and cosmetic products including make-up.
Plastic-free toothpaste alternatives
While recycling is an improvement, it does not adequately address the problem with plastic packaging.
Plastic is a petrochemical product which cannot be infinitely recycled, so virgin plastic will continue to be produced, thereby maintaining demand for the oil industry.
Single-use plastics need to be banned, but until that has happened you could choose plastic-free toothpaste:
- Toothpaste in a glass jar.
- Toothpaste in aluminium tubes or tins.
- Both glass and aluminium are widely recycled and can be recycled indefinitely.
Our Best and Recommended Buys from our Toothpaste guide in plastic-free packaging were:
- Dr Hauschka – 100% recycled aluminium tubes.
- Georganics – toothpaste, powder, and tablets in glass jars, toothsoap (solid toothpaste) in an aluminium tin.
- NOWA – toothpaste tablets in a refillable tin.
- Truthpaste – toothpaste in a glass jar.
- Weleda – aluminium tubes.
All these brands, marked with [S] on the scoretable, received an extra point for Product Sustainability because they are plastic free.
The three brands using glass and aluminium tins – Georganics, Truthpaste, and Nothing Wasted – are expensive relative to some of the major brands. This is partly because they are very small companies and are not yet benefiting from economies of scale. But also because the low price of plastic products does not properly reflect the wider cost of plastic production and use, such as environmental pollution and carbon emissions.
Powders and tablets also have the additional benefit of being waterless, just like solid shampoo bars, so there are fewer carbon emissions linked to their production and transportation.