Reducing your footprint on the planet is now very en vogue, and rightly so. Take single use plastic water bottles, what used to be the height of rehydrating fashion, is now sooo last decade.
To look after the planet, we need to be consuming far less stuff. Reusable water bottles and bamboo coffee cups are everywhere now. These make it much easier for us to ditch certain single use plastics.
But what about reducing plastics elsewhere in our lives? Eco conscious consumers are now turning their attention to achieving a zero waste bathroom. And playing a part in this is using plastic free toothpaste.
What is plastic free toothpaste and does it work as well as conventional toothpaste? What about fluoride? Do I need fluoride? If I do, can I buy toothpaste without plastic that includes fluoride?
I decided to delve deeper into the subject. Here’s what I found.
Why Do We Need to Care About Plastic Free Toothpaste?
Never before have we been so informed on the consequences of our actions. The need for us all to stop consuming so much is constantly highlighted. Especially so, single use plastic that often comes as an unwanted side order with our food and drink.
But plastic waste isn’t just generated by the food and drink industry. How we brush our teeth has also come under recent scrutiny.
There are 76 million of us living in the UK. If we all replaced our toothbrushes every three months like we’re told, that’s 268 million toothbrushes, give or take, purchased each year. My guess is that the majority are made from plastic and are sent to landfill.
Now let’s consider toothpaste. The stats on how much toothpaste is used in the UK each year aren’t easy to find. But we can assume that there’s hundreds of millions of tubes consumed annually.
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Reducing Plastic Waste: Turning off the Tap
Most toothpaste tubes are made from a mix of plastic and aluminium. These materials can’t be easily separated, so they both end up in landfill. Our dentists might be happy, but our environment isn’t.
Over time, all this plastic breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. They pollute landscapes and oceans and become food for fish, seabirds and other wildlife.
We all need to consider how we can be less wasteful. Taking steps to reduce packaging waste, including our toothpaste tubes, is crucial for the future of our planet.
Clear Some Space Bamboo Toothbrushes, Here Comes Toothpaste Without Plastic
Part of the answer to consuming less plastic is finding a toothpaste without plastic. But do such green options even exist? Turns out, yes, and there’s now lots of them!
Plastic free Tooth Pastes and Powders
Georganics are the most well known brand offering great toothpaste alternatives. Their tooth powder comes in glass jars with metal screw lids. They’re easy to use; simply dip a clean, wet toothbrush into the powder and brush as normal.
If you prefer a more conventional toothpaste, Georganics has a ‘normal’ toothpaste. This also comes in glass jars with metal lids. It’s available in flavours such as English Peppermint and Red Mandarin (ideal if you don’t like the taste of mint).
All Georganics oral care products are free from fluoride and SLS (more on SLS in a minute…). They contain ingredients that kill oral bacteria naturally. Some help to remineralise the teeth too.
Lavera Basis Sensitiv Toothpaste is a toothpaste without plastic made for kids (they’re tube is made from recycled plastic). It’s free from fluoride and SLS and helps to prevent cavities in delicate milk teeth.
Ben & Anna also have a range of plastic free toothpaste and tooth powders. They too come in glass and metal packaging and are free from SLS.
If Colgate is your favourite, you can still go plastic free. Colgate Tooth Powder comes in a metal tin (albeit with a small plastic lid). Wet your toothbrush, dip it in the powder and brush as normal.
A slightly odd, but by no means difficult way of brushing your teeth free from plastic is to use solid toothpaste.
Georganics Tooth Soap Stick is another plastic free toothpaste alternative. It comes in a compostable cardboard tube. Plus it has a satisfying foam, without the use of chemical foaming agents.
Lamazuma Solid Toothpaste looks a bit like something you’d find in a sweetshop. But rub a wet toothbrush over this solid toothpaste and you’re promised a dazzling smile.
Denttabs Toothpaste Tablets contain fluoride and are designed to be chewed. Once they’ve become paste-like, brush as normal.
If you want an entire plastic free oral care routine, opt for a miswak stick. These sticks are made from wood from the roots of the Miswak tree. They’ve been chewed on in place of brushes and toothpastes for generations in Arab countries.
If this sounds too tricky, or weird, try a SWAK toothbrush. These toothbrushes have a handle made from bioplastic and a replaceable miswak head. They can be used with or without toothpaste and could last you a lifetime!
The Question of Fluoride
When considering plastic free toothpaste, it’s also worth considering fluoride. Fluoride can help prevent tooth decay. It’s added to most conventional toothpastes and it occurs naturally in our water supply.
The level of naturally occurring fluoride in our drinking water varies, depending on where we are in the UK. There are some parts of the UK that have fluoride added to drinking water supplies. Your local water company will be able to tell you if your drinking water has added fluoride.
Local authorities and the NHS consider fluoride to be safe. Although they do acknowledge that children and baby teeth that are exposed to “too much” fluoride, can develop dental fluorosis. This can cause mild white flecking of the teeth, or more severe discolouration, albeit rare in the UK.
There are also concerns that fluoride, in water supplies and toothpaste, can lead to other health issues. These include problems with bone and thyroid health.
But for as many papers published warning of the potential dangers of fluoride, there are as many that say it’s safe. It continues to be a contentious subject, and at the moment I don’t know whether I need it or not.
My dentist tells me off for using a manual bamboo toothbrush and not a plastic electric one. So I’m certain he’ll tell me off for not using fluoride. Which at the moment, I’m not. But I’m not planning to tell him unless he ever asks after noticing something untoward with my teeth.
Many plastic free toothpastes tend to be in the ‘natural’ category and don’t contain fluoride. But in my list of toothpaste options above, I’ve included some that still do contain fluoride.
To SLS, or to Not SLS
Natural, plastic free toothpastes also tend to be free from SLS. SLS, or sodium lauryl sulphate, is a foaming agent. It’s used in toothpaste and also in soaps and shampoos to make them froth up.
SLS is also used in household cleaners, which is a scary thought, given that we so willingly put it into our mouths.
Unlike fluoride, my mind is pretty much made up that I don’t need SLS in my toothpaste. It’s use in toothpaste is linked to skin irritations and mouth ulcers. Since switching to SLS free toothpaste, I haven’t had a mouth ulcer (I used to get them all the time). So personally, I don’t see the need to use it ever again.
Eco friendly oral care doesn’t stop at turning off the tap when we’re brushing our teeth. Bamboo toothbrushes are now everywhere and plastic free toothpaste is following suit.
Even if you don’t want to give up your favourite minty fresh toothpaste, you can still recycle the seemingly unrecyclable.
Terracycle now offers a recycling programme for conventional toothpaste tubes (and toothbrushes). Collect your toothpaste tubes and send them off to Terracycle. Or drop them off at one of around 2,000 drop off points around the UK.
Plastic free toothpastes are, at the moment, generally more expensive than conventional toothpaste. But with time, they’ll become more mainstream and more accessible. Look for bulk buy deals or toothpaste without plastic at zero waste stores. Or you could try making your own plastic free toothpaste.
Consider switching your toothpaste and smile a plastic free smile. The planet will certainly smile with you!