Can you recycle toothpaste tubes (and toothpaste boxes)?

  • Date: June 15, 2022

The dental industry has come under fire in the last few years as consumers have become increasingly concerned about the amount of plastic that they use in their day-to-day lives. Although many people have opted for a plastic-free dental routine with, bamboo toothbrushes and toothpaste tablets, the vast majority of us still use plastic brushes and standard tubes of toothpaste. This results in a lot of waste. Standard toothpaste tubes can’t be recycled in curbside collections, but Colgate and TerraCycle have provided a solution for now. And new widely recyclable tubes are in the pipeline. Let’s take a closer look…

Firstly, can you recycle toothpaste boxes? Even the shiny ones?

Let’s tackle the easy bit first – the toothpaste box. Toothpaste boxes are, typically, made from cardboard, a widely recycled material. Although rules and regulations do vary from state to state, paper is a standard for curbside recycling collections.  Some brands of toothpaste opt for a shiny/metallic sheen on their boxes, to make them stand out amongst their competitors. Many consumers think that this type of cardboard is not suitable for recycling, but this is not the case. It can be popped into the recycling bin along with all the other household related cardboard.

Now for the more complicated business of the tubes…

What are toothpaste tubes made from?

If we know what an item is made from it will give us some clues as to whether it can be recycled or not. Currently toothpaste tubes, generally, contain a combination of plastic and metal. The metal, as well as ensuring it stays rolled up, helps keep the toothpaste fresh.

However, increasingly, purely-plastic tubes are being produced by toothpaste brands. Sensodyne Pronamel seem to have lead the way with a switch from the aluminum-laminate to their very own patented Greenleaf laminate. This year (2022) Colgate have also began the roll-out of their high-density polyethylene (HDPE) tubes.

So, can you recycle toothpaste tubes?

Mixed materials tend to cause problems in the recycling world. Any items made with combinations of different materials causes havoc for standard recycling centers. They simply don’t have the resources to separate the different materials meaning they are not able to offer this service.

The toothpaste tubes without the metal layer – such as Sensodyne Pronamal and Colgates new tubes – should be suitable for curbside recycling. But, as always, check what your local rules and regulations are. 

For those tubes with the pesky aluminum layer, Colgate have teamed up with TerraCycle to make it super simple. Your toothpaste tubes and other oral health related items such as floss containers and plastic toothbrushes can still be diverted from an eternity in landfill. And to make things even better – they don’t need to be Colgate branded brushes or waste. All brands are accepted.

Either drop-off your items at a designated spot in your area. Or create an account with TerraCycle and when you have a box full of permitted items you can send them in using a prepaid shipping label. It couldn’t be easier!

What are the other alternatives to toothpaste tubes?

As is the case with toothbrushes being made with bamboo, toothpaste tube alternatives are increasingly available. The use of toothpaste tablets is growing. In 2021, the market was worth around $20 million (only the tiniest fraction of the global oral care industry) but it is expected to nearly double by 2026.

We cannot vouch for toothpaste tablets in terms of teeth-cleaning quality or even an ingredient standpoint (all the brands vary widely in ingredients). However, in terms of recycling, we can get on board with it – toothpaste tabs could not be better. Usually made from glass or a recyclable plastic tub, they have none of the issues associated with the metal/plastic standard toothpaste tube.

Glass, in particular, is one of the most easily recyclable materials out there – it can be recycled endlessly without loosing any of its qualities. And, what’s more, if you decide to just re-use it instead, they are way more useful than an old toothpaste tube would be. Let’s face it, who is realistically going to turn their old toothpaste tube into a pen holder or money safe?!

The bottom line

Currently, most toothpaste tubes are not suitable for standard curbside recycling – but hopefully, with the new innovations being developed, this will be easier within the next few years. In the meantime, Colgate, along with TerraCycle have made oral care product recycling possible. It could not be easier, with multiple drop-off points being available in many cities and a postal option available too.