In the world of recycling, toothpaste tubes are something of the antichrist. Armed with a combination of plastic laminate – usually a mixture of different types of materials – and aluminium, which is effective for keeping the formula’s flavour profile and for protecting it from water, it makes the pack notoriously difficult to put through conventional recycling systems. As a result, conventional toothpaste tubes have become a thorn in the side of the environment and something the personal care sector is out to change.
Before the race to save the planet became mainstream, however, these plastic tubes were seen as something of a phenomenon. Toothpaste tubes were first adopted in metal packs, such as zinc or lead; but, following a shortage of metals after World War II, the plastic revolution began.
The blend of materials that became the conventional tube that we know today was, and still is, hailed for its flexibility and durability, as well as keeping the formula intact – a ‘do or die’ when it comes to a personal care product’s success. However, what started out as a packaging pioneer, soon became an enemy of the natural world as millions of toothpaste tubes began filling up the world’s landfills. In 2021, it was reported by waste management group Business Waste that around 300 million toothpaste tubes are used every year in the UK alone. The company’s findings show that spread end-to-end these tubes make up around 75,000km of plastic, enough to wrap around the earth – twice.
“A lot of toothpaste tubes have that layer of aluminium in to keep them fresh, but this makes it a recycling nightmare,” said spokesman Mark Hall via the company’s website, “so unfortunately most tubes will end up at a landfill.” And, when they do, it takes around 500 years for them to break down, leaving the repercussions for the generations after us to deal with.