Just like any other toiletries we use, toothpaste is designed to be purchased, used, and then thrown out, which means just like any other toiletry, there are zero waste alternatives. This was another swap I was inspired to make by a family member. My younger sister bought a zero waste toothpaste over the summer, didn’t like it, and abandoned it at home when she left for college. Upon my return home for Thanksgiving, the toothpaste was still sitting there, ready to be incorporated into my own zero waste mission.
Why make this swap?
Tubes of toothpaste are typically made of plastic and aluminum and are nearly impossible to recycle. Not only is the plastic normally a non-recyclable variety, but the two components are too tricky to separate to make the recycling process really worth it. Because toothpaste can’t be recycled, and because most people are using toothpaste daily, that means this habit produces an incredible amount of waste. According to 1 Million Women, an environmental action group, typical households throw out one tube of toothpaste a month, and 1 billion tubes end up in landfills each year.
And of course, that doesn’t account for the resources and energy use and carbon emissions involved in the production of twelve tubes of toothpaste per household each year.
What I did
As I said, this swap conveniently presented itself to me when I went home. Over the summer, my sister bought zero waste toothpaste tablets from Well Earth Goods. She wasn’t a huge fan, so they were still sitting in our shared bathroom when I went home, and I was able to give them a try.
I’ll be honest, the tablet aspect is weird. This “unpaste” toothpaste looks like a small white pill, which you’re supposed to crush with your teeth, add a little water and then start brushing. There wasn’t really much of a taste, but the whole experience felt weird in my mouth. The first time I tried it out there was a lot of drool involved and the tablet fell out of my mouth, half-crushed.
This toothpaste is something I could get used to if I tried, although it might take some time. Even though it didn’t taste very minty, I was happy to find that my mouth still felt really fresh afterward.
I also tried out a more salt-of-the-earth zero waste toothpaste option: baking soda. Baking soda is kind of a zero waste staple. You can use it for toothpaste, DIY cleaning supplies, deodorant and obviously baking.
Most DIY toothpaste recipes online will include baking soda, but you can also just use it as is without adding anything. The easiest way, as I was directed by Dental BLU, is to put the baking soda in a small container, like a shot glass, and then dip your wet toothbrush in to make a kind of paste. Then brush away.
This method was kind of gross. I never really knew what baking soda tasted like on its own, and I wish it had stayed that way. In addition to the salty taste, I could very much tell that it was a powder, not a paste, which my mouth just couldn’t really get used to. I doubt I’ll ever use this method again unless I’m really in a pinch.
What this means for you
These are just two options for zero waste toothpastes, but there are lots more out there. Sustainable Jungle has compiled a really great list that goes through lots of different options. Most of the options are either the crushable ones like what I tried or some kind of powder, but there are a few that are actually pastes, like David’s Sustainable Toothpaste, which comes in a more traditional tube that’s actually recyclable.
Something to look out for is how many of these toothpastes contain fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral typically found in drinking water and most toothpastes which helps prevent tooth decay. Many zero waste options are fluoride-free, including both of the methods I tried. While this doesn’t mean the toothpaste won’t work, there is a chance it’ll be less effective at preventing cavities. While this is a personal decision, if I were to buy a new zero waste toothpaste, I’d probably look for an option with fluoride to add to my bathroom caddy.