Starting at a young age, we are taught that we need to brush our teeth every day using a toothbrush and toothpaste. However, since the uprising of protests in the name of climate change, people's views of toothpaste have changed as well. Why is toothpaste targeted, and how bad is it really for the environment?
What's in toothpaste?
Now, different brands of toothpaste have different ingredients. Some of these ingredients seem logical, like cellulose gum to make it a gummy substance. Others, like copolymers and titanium dioxides, seem very threatening and don't ring any bells with us. If we don't even know what's in our toothpaste, how can we be sure it's good for our teeth and health?
Research from the University of Gothenburg in 2014 examined the ingredients in multiple kinds of toothpaste and explained their properties. Most of them have names we only expect to see in science movies, like Helidone Pink or Brilliant Blue FCF. These compounds are used to colour the toothpaste, but their names do not belong to any natural colourants.
What makes these ingredients so harmful?
Now, not all ingredients in toothpaste are harmful to the environment like cellulose gum. That functions merely as a stabilizer and to create the "gummy" look toothpaste has. However, substances like Brilliant Blue FCF aren't as innocent.
Brilliant Blue FCF is a colourant, in this case colouring your toothpaste blue. It's a common ingredient used by the brand Colgate. It is also used in other cosmetics, food and pharmaceuticals. One thing about this substance is that it's harmful to marine life. It's a harmful substance that remains in water even after passing through sewage systems. A small amount of this toothpaste may not hurt, but when many people use it (which they do), it can have devastating effects on marine life.
Helidone Pink has been found to be very toxic to marine life. It is present in kinds of toothpaste, including Aquafresh, as a colourant similar to Brilliant Blue FCF. This poisonous substance remains in our soil for well over a year before it is fully degrades, meaning it is always present as more is constantly added.
A final example, but possibly the most extreme, is sodium pyrophosphate. This substance contains phosphor, which builds up algae growth in both our sewage systems and in the water at the end of the sewage line. A build-up of algae causes an increase of CO2 being released into the water, creating a dead spot. This means the fish and other animals that live there will slowly suffocate and die. No other life will exist.
Other ways in which toothpaste can be harmful
Not only are the ingredients in toothpaste harmful to the environment but the product packaging as well. Most toothpaste tubes are plastic and are not easily recycled, as many municipalities do not have the prope2 equipment.
As we know, plastic is a product of oil and the process of both creating and recycling it causes a surge of CO2 into the air. The manufacturing of toothpaste is, therefore, very unfriendly for the environment.
Are there any alternatives?
We, humans, are simple. We learn to do something for our health, so we want to keep doing it. There are still ways in which you can brush your teeth without harming the environment. Most of them readily available in stores all over your country.
One alternative is toothpaste tablets. They are small, pill looking tablets that contain multiple ingredients to keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh. You only need to chew on it and start brushing and it will start foaming in your mouth.
These toothpaste tab sometimes contains fluoride, but not always since the opinions on fluoride are very divided. However, it does consist of natural ingredients like soda, chalk (as filling) and natural mint flavour. Be sure to check out the ingredients on the packaging before you buy to ensure you are getting all-natural ingredients and not more unpronounceable chemicals.
Another alternative is a tube of toothpaste but biodegradable and using safe and natural ingredients. Most health stores sell these toothpastes and some pharmacies, as well. These kinds of toothpaste are made of an actual paste, but their packaging is often recycled or made out of biodegradable material. This means it can either be recycled again or composted. Their ingredients are readable and recognizable. Plus, they are often vegan as well. Before buying a tube of this type of toothpaste, make sure these companies do not test their products on animals. And if you want to go the extra mile, check where the toothpaste is made. Products produced closer to home require less resources to get you you making them friendlier to the environment.
Lastly, there is another option that not many people think of: making your own toothpaste.
The main purpose of toothpaste is to clean your teeth to prevent bacteria growth that causes cavities or plaque. So all you need to do is find ingredients that are antibacterial and non-threatening to your teeth (looking at you, sugar!). Baking soda is a wonder to all! This simple ingredient can be used in almost anything since it has so many different properties, one of them being antibacterial.
You can use a bit of baking soda with water and brush your teeth like you normally would. If you don't like the taste, you can add a bit of coconut oil combined with a drop of essential mint oil (or another herb).
Yes, most popular toothpastes are harmful to the environment in both ingredients and packaging. However, this does not mean you shouldn't brush your teeth. There are more and more alternatives coming to the market every day.
And if you want to be extra zero-waste, you can buy bamboo toothbrushes for a few dollars; like these. They are biodegradable and more sustainable to create as well. Happy brushing!
- Is Toothpaste an Environmental Hazard?: bioenv.gu.se
- US National Library of Medicine: dailymed.nlm.nih.gov
- Toothpaste and Society: chemistryandsociety-toothpaste.weebly.com
- Here's Why Brushing Your Teeth is Bad for the Oceans: vice.com
- Toothpaste: ethicalconsumer.org
- Impact of Floride on Environment and Human Health: ijssbt.org