Toothpaste is one of the most important parts of your oral care regime.
It helps to clean your teeth, and also delivers key ingredients like fluoride, which help protect against cavities.
But traditional toothpaste tubes are famously difficult to recycle — they can’t be placed in your household recycling.
Recently, however, a new recyclable toothpaste tube has been released. It’s only available for select toothpastes at the moment, but should eventually replace all non-recyclable toothpaste tubes.
There are also other eco-friendly toothpaste options available, such as toothpaste tablets.
Read on to find out about:
- Why toothpaste tubes are difficult to recycle.
- What other toothpaste tubes are available.
- The newest style toothpaste tube, which is recyclable.
- The plastic free alternatives to toothpaste tubes.
- How to recycle your toothpaste tube.
Why traditional (laminate) toothpaste tubes are a problem
When you think about toothpaste, you will probably be imagining the squeezable tubes it normally comes in.
Before I explain the difficulty with recycling these, it’s important to mention that newer recyclable tubes are being introduced by many of the big toothpaste manufacturers. These are described in more detail later on in the article.
On their packaging, they are clearly labelled as recyclable HDPE Plastic number 2. Over the next couple of years, this is going to cause some confusion, because some toothpaste tubes will be recyclable and others won’t.
If the tube has no clear labelling, assume it is a traditional tube which is not easily recyclable.
They are not easily recyclable
In the UK, Recycle Now advises that toothpaste tubes are not recyclable.
Manufacturers don’t advertise the fact that their tubes can’t be recycled. Don’t be misled by the presence of other “recycling logos” such as The Green Dot or The Mobius Loop . Neither of these are a guarantee that the material is recycled or recyclable.
Their materials are difficult to separate for recycling
Toothpaste tubes are laminate tubes. They are made up of multiple layers, similar to those used for other cosmetics, from hand creams to foundation to hair products.
These tubes are made of a layer of aluminium with plastic fused to it on both sides.
The resin on the inside prevents the toothpaste from reacting with the metal.
The polyester paint on the outside is fully flexible and allows useful information to be printed on the tube without being damaged, even when the tube is twisted.
The reason these tubes are so popular is because they keep the toothpaste fresh. They are lightweight, and easy to transport.
Pure aluminium tubes are prone to breakage, whereas pure plastic tubes struggle with keeping flavour locked in.
The problem with these is that it is very difficult to then separate the materials again. This makes toothpaste tubes a challenge to recycle with other household waste.
Another problem is that the toothpaste is never completely removed from the tube, leaving a residue behind. This means additional cleaning is needed when recycling the tube.
Because of this, traditional toothpaste tubes cannot normally be recycled with your household waste.
Specialist recycling schemes do exist for them though. You can find out about this in the section below about TerraCycle Schemes.
They can be recycled, but it is energy intensive
The technology does exist to be able to recycle laminated packaging.
It is a process known as the Enval Process, and this separates the aluminium from the other materials in the tube.
Recycling laminate tubes is very energy intensive but, if done correctly, the process is profitable (as outlined in a 2011 report). However this varies depending on the country that you are in.
About 150,000 tubes need to be recycled to recover just one ton of useful material.
The end product is estimated to be about 9% aluminium, which can be sold on. The plastics, about 76%, are converted into oils and gases- both of which can then be used for fuel. The other product of the recycling process is water.
How to recycle traditional (laminate) toothpaste tubes with TerraCycle
As discussed earlier, laminate toothbrush tubes, which are the most widespread form of tube at the time of writing, can’t be recycled with household recycling schemes.
And we want to avoid sending them to landfill. Getting as close to zero waste as possible will reduce your carbon footprint.
So what options are there?
They can be recycled using special equipment via TerraCycle. This is a global scheme which organises the collection of difficult to recycle products, including oral care products.
There is more detail about how this works on our page about how to recycle a manual toothbrush.
They normally accept waste from any brand. You just need to find where to drop off your items too. It may also be possible to post your items.
As well as the organised schemes above, you can purchase your own recycling box which you can fill with all different types of waste that TerraCycle collects. These are not cheap, but it may be an option if there is not a collection point near you.
Other types of toothpaste tube can be recycled with your household recycling (but not always)
Beyond traditional toothpaste tubes, there are a variety of other types of tube. Each is made from different types of material.
Those made of just single layer plastics are easier to recycle than laminate tubes. That said, there is limited information available about them.
Pump action toothpaste tubes can be easier to recycle. Unlike laminate tubes made of multiple materials (both metal and plastic), these toothpaste tubes are more simple.
They are often made of plastic that can be recycled.
It has been difficult to get a firm answer anywhere, but check the type of plastic that it is made from. It can usually be recycled where your local recycling accepts hard plastics.
In the UK, Recycle Now advises that pump tube toothpastes can be put in with normal plastic recycling.
As a general rule, if your household recycling does not accept soap dispensers, they are unlikely to accept pump action toothpaste tubes.
The same is probably true of the squeezy bottle types of toothpaste. The ones where it is a more rigid plastic.
Again, it is very difficult to get an answer about this from local recycling websites.
There is a new recyclable toothpaste tube, the Greenleaf
Toothpaste tubes are the most common way of dispensing toothpaste. The tube protects the toothpaste and prevents it from becoming contaminated. They are cheap to produce and lightweight too.
But the traditional laminate tubes cannot be recycled with mainstream plastic recycling.
A new recyclable tube has now been made in response to this. It moves away from tubes made up of multiple materials.
Albea makes the “Greenleaf” tube, which is 100% plastic, and can be recycled in existing facilities. You can put it in with your household recycling collection.
The new tube is made of one material: Plastic number 2, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE).
HDPE is used because it is one of the most widely recycled plastics. Recycled HDPE can be turned into all kinds of new things, including construction materials and new packaging.
The greatest benefit is that although the tube is a new design, the required recycling facilities already exist.
In fact, it has been independently assessed by the US-based Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and by Europe’s RecyClass have recycling readiness tests.
The new tubes pass these, which means they can be recycled using existing facilities.
Tube lids are made of plastic number 5, polypropylene (PP). These are normally also recyclable, but you will need to check your local facilities.
This was originally researched by Colgate-Palmolive, but they have shared the technology with other toothpaste makers too.
GSK (makers of Sensodyne, Parodontax, and Aquafresh) have also pledged to use the new packaging, with the hope that over a billion toothpaste tubes per year will become recyclable by 2025.
Proctor & Gamble, who make Crest and Oral-B, have also started using the new tubes. They aim to have full conversion by 2025 for the US and Europe.
A list of toothpastes that use the Albea Greenleaf recyclable tube
Below is a list of toothpastes that we are aware of that use the Albea Greenleaf recyclable tube.
We will update this periodically as more brands start to use the new tube. If there are any we’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.
Please beware that older stock may still exist, so if you buy one of these you should still check the back of the tube for one of the logos in the section below.
How to pick a recyclable toothpaste tube
Most toothpaste tubes are not recyclable. Assume that the toothpaste tube you have cannot be recycled with your normal plastic recycling. These will need to be recycled with a system such as TerraCycle, as described here.
That said, recyclable tubes are now available as an option.
Many of the big brand names have said that they will start using these in the future.
But there will be a crossover period.
To be sure that your toothpaste tube is recyclable, you should look for the appropriate recycling label in your country.
In the UK, that is the presence of this logo from The On-Pack Recycling Label (OPRL) scheme. It indicates that the packaging is collected by 75% or more of local authorities across the UK:
Logos that show the tube is recyclable
The manufacturer may also help to identify the tube as recyclable. It needs to have one of these symbols:
(HDPE being the material used in the new tubes, and which can be placed in with your regular recycling).
The back of Colgate Smile for Good is clearly labelled as recyclable and with the plastic number 2 symbol.
Plastic free alternatives also exist
There are plastic free alternatives to toothpaste tubes.
For example, there are toothpaste tablets. These come in plastic packaging, glass jars, or metal tins, and can be refilled in some places. They can also be ordered in bulk in cardboard boxes.
Toothpaste and tooth powders are also available in alternative packaging too.
However, just because these products are plastic free, it does not necessarily mean they have less impact on the environment.
I discuss this more in our post on the best eco-friendly toothpaste options.
You may be tempted to make your own toothpaste to reduce your waste, but as a dentist I advise against DIY toothpaste.