When we brush our teeth, we often forget that even though we maintain cleanliness when it comes to oral hygiene, can we say the same for the environment? Do you ever wonder what happens to toothpaste tubes after we throw them out into our trash bin?
We answer your questions in this guide. While normally, toothpaste tubes are not meant to be recycled, the revolutionary breakthrough of certain companies will change the world. After all, we don’t want our landfills to have too much garbage that would harm the environment, right?
The usually non-recyclable aluminum toothpaste tubes could now be reused and sent back to facilities to be used for newer products, which will save our landfills from being overfilled. In this article, we highlight some key points on recycling toothpaste tubes for you to get informed.
Where can you recycle toothpaste tubes?
Toothpaste tubes are a difficult topic when it comes to recycling. However, with the growing interest in going eco-friendly nowadays, more and more options have become available to many people around the world. Here are your options if you want to recycle your toothpaste tubes:
Take them to a local recycling facility
Most local recycling facilities will take pump action toothpaste tubes simply because they are easier to recycle in general. The material that’s used to make them is simpler to take apart, which means that recycling facilities will have less trouble in handling them.
On the other hand, if you have a squeezable type of toothpaste tube, you will have a difficult time. Unfortunately, the squeezable toothpaste tube is the most common tube around the world, which is why many people find it frustrating to have a toothpaste tube sent to a recycling facility. Therefore, the majority of them ends up in the landfill, causing problems for the environment.
However, in rare cases, some places do have a local recycling facility that takes squeezable tubes of any kind (not just toothpaste, but also sunscreen, creams, gels, lotions, and the like).
You can use this online tool to know your locality’s collection policies. This will help you figure out if your area’s facility takes in toothpaste tubes – and if they take both pump-action and squeezable types.
A famous recycling program is TerraCycle, which offers free recycling and upcycling services to help out the environment. If you can’t find a local facility that will take your toothpaste tubes, this is your next option.
TerraCycle is best known for handling a wide range of items, which, fortunately, includes toothpaste tubes. Moreover, they have partnered with a well-renowned toothpaste brand, Colgate, to encourage people to have their oral and dental care products to be recycled. This includes any of the following:
- Toothpaste tubes, with or without caps
- Toothpaste tube caps
- Plastic toothbrushes
- Plastic toothbrush packaging
- Dental floss packaging
- Dental floss container
- Electric or battery-operated toothbrush head
- Toothpaste carton
As you can see, they will recycle more than just toothpaste tubes. If you have a plethora of oral care needs that should be thrown away, you can send them over to TerraCycle instead of throwing them away to a landfill. Take note: this collaboration will accept any brand, so you don’t have to necessarily only give them Colgate products!
So, how does TerraCycle collect your toothpaste tubes? Here’s how they work with most recyclable products:
1. Look for a drop-off point near you
TerraCycle has a lot of these points, which are usually situated near schools, organizations, and the like. Just have a little search on your local neighborhood or you can use this map to find one.
2. Clean and prepare your toothpaste tubes
Cutting your toothpaste tubes open will help the recyclers do their job properly. You should also clean them before you pack them into the shipment.
3. Send them off
Send your shipment to TerraCycle’s drop-off point. This will earn you corresponding points if your shipment meets the required weight. At most, you will get 2 points for every 2 pounds of recycled toothpaste (and other oral care products, probably).
With this method, you’ll have a lot of benefits from using the TerraCycle program – one being earning points to support your preferred charitable cause. You can use these points for your chosen charity or school, which is always a good feeling.
4. The recyclers do their job
After you shipped off your recyclables, TerraCycle staff work on them. The waste is separated according to their polymer type, and then they are broken down into plastic pellets. These pellets are eventually used to make new products.
Although this process looks tedious, it will eventually pay off since we aren’t throwing our toothpaste tubes into landfills, which will benefit the environment and lessen stress in trying to find dumpsite areas around the world.
What’s a good reusable toothpaste tube brand?
With the technology offered today, two leading companies are pioneering their recyclable toothpaste tubes. Here are some of them:
So far, Colgate offers their first-ever recyclable toothpaste tube. Due to being a well-renowned company and due to many years of environmental issues being faced by the manufacturers, Colgate finally made efforts to create less waste in the dumpsite by creating this recyclable toothpaste tube.
So, how does the toothpaste tube work? Here’s how the company described it:
1. Look for the HDPE or Recyclable Tube symbol
If you find such a symbol (which looks like the regular 3 arrows recycling logo), that means that it is a recyclable toothpaste tube. You are essentially buying smart and giving back to the environment from the beginning when you purchased this toothpaste tube.
2. Use the toothpaste tube-like normal
Although it is made with recyclable material (explained further below), you can just squeeze it out until you have no more toothpaste left inside the tube.
3. Send the tube to a recycling facility
Their recyclable toothpaste is eligible for most recycling facilities. All you need to do is to send them back. This also includes TerraCycle as we mentioned above.
A word of advice from Colgate: there’s no need to rinse the toothpaste tube from the inside (by cutting it open) because the facilities already have special removing tools that extract and wash off the excess toothpaste to save you time and effort.
So now that we know how Colgate’s recyclable toothpaste tube works, here are some fast FAQs about their recycling initiative:
What makes their toothpaste tubes recyclable?
Colgate makes their tubes out of HDPE or High-Density Polyethylene, which is also called #2 plastic. On the other hand, #5 plastic or PP (polypropylene) is used in making their tube caps.
This practically means that both the tube and the caps are recyclable, so make sure to put them together when you send them to the recycling facility to avoid getting the caps everywhere.
Colgate has decided to share their technology because they want to make a difference when it comes to giving back to the environment. They envision a future where all companies now use recyclable toothpaste tubes.
Even though it is #2 HDPE plastic, the fact that the toothpaste tube is recyclable means that we are lessening our landfill bulk in the long run. If we still resorted to the other traditional packaging, we’ll end up with less space in our dumpsites.
By the end of 2025, Colgate envisions the mark of a full transition from non-recyclable to recyclable toothpaste. Although most of their tubes are still using the traditional format, in the future, they will soon be replaced by eco-friendlier counterparts to give back to the environment.
How do the tubes get recycled?
The MRF or the Materials Recovery Facility is where the toothpaste tubes are sent after they are collected. After the sorting process, a re-processor would convert these tubes and then turn them into plastic pellets. Such pellets are used for creating new products.
Colgate has been working on certain efforts to ensure that the toothpaste tubes do get into the recycling facilities (and not on the dumpsites). For instance, they have paired with various industry groups and are constantly educating people about how these tubes are now recyclable.
By sharing their knowledge and their newfound technology with other companies, they are hoping to make a change for the better when it comes to eco-friendliness. Aside from that, the company is ensuring lab testing and facility check-ups to see if the recyclable tubes are indeed processed with zero-waste.
Tom’s of Maine
Yet another company that made a recyclable toothpaste tube is Tom’s of Maine. From their first product – a laundry detergent that doesn’t include phosphates – up to now, they have been committed to sustainable manufacturing and eco-friendly choices.
This company also partnered with TerraCycle, similar to Colgate, to produce recyclable toothpaste tubes. Here’s what you need to know about their toothpaste tube program:
Recycling the toothpaste tubes
To know if your Tom’s of Maine toothpaste has a recyclable tube, look for a recycling symbol with the words “Once empty, replace the cap and recycle with #2 plastics”. Although not all of their toothpaste tubes have this symbol at the moment, it is only because they are still in the beginning phase. Soon, all of their tubes will become recyclable.
To ready, the toothpaste tube for collection in a recycling facility, all you need to do is to empty it and replace the cap. Most community curbside recycling schemes will accept #2 HDPE plastic because it is used by recycling facilities to turn into small pellets that eventually get turned into new products.
Moreover, to check if your community does accept this kind of material for recycling, get in touch with your local authorities. Some communities may have a different ordinance so you might have to take the toothpaste tubes somewhere else.
With that said, when you prepare your toothpaste, you don’t necessarily have to remove the inside by cutting it because the machines at the recycling facility will do the job for you. They will get rid of all the residual toothpaste that cannot be manually taken out just by squeezing out the tube.
How do the tubes get recycled?
To ensure that they get into recycling and sorting facilities, Tom’s of Maine works with APR, The Recycling Partnership, and More Recycling. With them, a couple of tests were made to make sure that the tubes are properly sorted and do qualify their standards on recycling. They worked on the size and other physical properties so that they will be easier to recycle.
Like Colgate, Tom’s of Maine is also open to sharing its technology with other brands and manufacturers. They also have a vision for a green future where all toothpaste tubes (and similar tubes) will be recyclable so that we don’t have to fill up the landfills unnecessarily.
Can I DIY recycle my toothpaste tube?
If for some reason, your toothpaste tubes cannot go into the recycling facility, there’s still hope. Not everyone lives in countries that are reachable by TerraCycle to pick up the toothpaste tubes. Not every grocery store has the all-new HDPE tubes innovated by Colgate. So, what can you do?
The answer is simple: you can turn toothpaste tubes into innovative arts and crafts. Here are some repurposing projects that you can do at home.
- You can turn your empty toothpaste tube into an office supply – a pen holder. Simply cut off the cap to turn your toothpaste tube into a pen holder. This holder can be attached to a corkboard to hold most office supplies.
- Turn your empty toothpaste tube into a scissor or knife protector. If you have one of those emergency knives and kitchen scissors that are stored in the drawer and not on a knife block, you will need this for protection, especially if you have kids around. Doing this project also involves cutting off the cap part.
- Use your empty tubes as a makeshift piggy bank. After cleaning the inside of the tube, don’t cut off the top – insert your paper bills inside so that there will be no way to retrieve it until you cut the cap part.
Name: Rebecca Tarvin
Discipline: Integrative biology
Degrees: B.A., Biology, Boston University, 2010; Ph.D., Biological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin,2017
Rebecca Tarvin is broadly interested in integrating studies of natural history with molecular genomics and phylogenetics. Specifically, she aims to elucidate causal genetic mechanisms underlying novel traits, characterize phenotypic diversification at macro and micro-evolutionary scales, and identify factors that promote and constrain biodiversity.
She also likes to write about eco-friendly lifestyle and other material alternatives that are eco-friendly, aside from other ways to save Mother Earth