You use it every day, but if you're like most people, you probably haven't put much thought into what is actually IN your toothpaste, much less about how many toothpaste tubes you send to the landfill every year. The truth is that the ingredients used in some toothpastes can be harmful to both the environment and your health, and millions of empty toothpaste tubes and pump dispensers are tossed into landfills each year in the US.

Ingredients to avoid in toothpastes

The number one way to make your tooth cleaning ritual more green is to reduce the number of chemicals you wash down the drain with each brushing. Whether you opt for homemade toothpastes or a basic baking soda scrub, or you prefer to buy your toothpaste in the store, options abound to limit your exposure—and that of the earth's—to the harmful synthetics in toothpastes. Specifically, you'll want to avoid:

  • Triclosan: Studies have shown that the antibacterial agent triclosan acts as an endocrine disruptor and ecological pollutant with the potential to cause health problems in humans, as well as animals living in waterways where triclosan is deposited after disposal down the drain. Triclosan has been found in 55 percent of streams examined in 2002 at levels high enough to disrupt the natural life cycle of frogs.[1]
  • Parabens: These preservatives, which prevent the growth of bacteria, are found in about 75 to 90 percent of cosmetic and personal care products.[2] After washing down the drain, these chemicals are discharged through wastewater systems and end up in waterways, where they appear to have estrogenic effects on fish. In humans, parabens can affect the endocrine system, which produces hormones. Acting like estrogen in the body, they increase the risk of breast cancer, with recent studies finding parabens in breast tumors. Parabens have been found in breast milk, blood, and body tissues, and can enter a developing fetus.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS): Used as a foaming and cleansing agent, SLS is a suspected carcinogen. Natural oils, like peppermint for flavor or tea tree for antibacterial power, and plant-derived compounds are safer for you and the environment.
  • Artificial dyes and sweeteners: FD&C Blue 1 has been linked to cell mutation and tumor growth in animal studies. FD&C Green 3 is not permitted in cosmetics used near the eyes, but remains prevalent in oral hygiene products. It’s carcinogenic properties are similar to that of Blue 1. Yellow 5 and 6 have shown similar dangers. Artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin, have also been shown in clinical animal studies to cause a wide range of health problems, including cancer.

Packaging waste

About 1 billion toothpaste tubes and dispensers are sent to landfills every year, many of which are recyclable.[3] Though both typically end up in landfills, the average tube of toothpaste produces about 70 percent less waste than a pump dispenser, so is the preferable packaging option.[4]

Recycling toothpaste containers

Toothpaste tubes and dispensers are usually made of either aluminum or plastic, both of which are recyclable. Recycling aluminum instead of mining and processing virgin ore results in energy savings of up to 95 percent. The process of converting raw bauxite (the source of aluminum that makes up 8 percent of the earth's crust) into aluminum is an energy-consuming one, requiring roughly 7.5 kilowatt hours for each pound of virgin aluminum. In addition, reusing aluminum means that less bauxite needs to be procured to create new materials: open-cast mining of bauxite leads to deforestation and destruction of ecosystems.

Plastic is not biodegradable, taking up to 700 years before beginning to decompose.[5] Recycling plastics keeps this non-biodegradable waste out of landfills and can reduce energy consumption by 70 percent. Recycling paper products, like cardboard packaging, results in energy savings of 40 percent.[6]

External links


  1. TreeHugger - There's a Frog Disrupter in my Soap
  2. Winter, Ruth (2005) A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. New York: Three Rivers Press: 41-555
  3. Green Living Tips
  4. North Carolina State University
  6. "The Truth About Recycling" 36The Economist37 June 7, 2007