Sustainable Manufacturing of Personal Products: Toothpaste Case Study

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Personal products are the products we use daily. The first thing someone may think of when they hear “personal products” are products used in personal hygiene and personal care. These products have made themselves staples in our routine and as there aren’t often alternatives to these products, taking a look at the lifecycle of these products and analyzing ways to improve seems to be the most reasonable solution. This article will look into the manufacturing process of personal products, with a specific lens on toothpaste. Toothpaste is a relatively modern product, only being introduced and mass marketed in the 1800s at the end of the century. With toothpaste only being a recent staple, it allows room for growth as technology and sustainability initiatives expand.

An environmental assessment framework released by SASB highlights areas to assess during the life cycle of these personal products. These areas include Water Management; Product Environmental, Health, and Safety Performance; Packaging Lifecycle Management; and Environmental & Social Impacts of Palm Oil Supply Chain. This basic framework can be applied to the supply chain of any personal product. Using this framework in the manufacturing process of toothpaste, we can delve deeper into sustaining Environmental, Health, and Safety Performance; and Packaging Lifecycle Management.

Toothpaste Case Study

Toothpaste is a part of most people’s routines twice a day! This frequency results in a lot of waste. In India, 55% of the population (approximately 682 million people) use toothpaste daily. An average of 10 tubes of toothpaste at 80g a tube equates to 6820 million tubes and packaging going to landfill every year. That’s a lot of waste! Each tube discarded at the end of its lifecycle also includes the box it is purchased in and the remnants of the product in the tube, making recycling the current packaging design very difficult. 
Many commercially available toothpaste often contain various chemicals, including sulphates, fluorine, and triclosan. These chemicals negatively affect the natural environment when they find their way into water supplies, either by poor water management or groundwater contamination at the end of their lifecycle. Not only do these chemicals threaten the natural environment, but they can negatively affect human health.

Innovative Solutions to Toothpaste Manufacturing

As the world continues to expand our global sustainability, addressing the impacts of our everyday items is crucial. The following sections will address the industry’s sustainability and delve deeper into issues and solutions to toothpaste’s environmental and health impacts during the production stages.

Cardboard Box

In most places you buy toothpaste, you will buy it in an exterior cardboard box. This isn’t the case everywhere, such as in Iceland and Sweden, sell their toothpaste without a box. So why does everywhere else use a box? The box is often unnecessary as all the critical information is then reiterated on the tube of toothpaste itself. A box might be necessary for prescription or specialty toothpaste with additional information, but it is not essential for a standard tube bought at the grocery store. This box is not only unnecessary but is using valuable natural resources. In the United States, if every person uses an average of 4 tubes of toothpaste a year, that’s over 1 million wasted boxes. Eliminating this cardboard box from production is an easy mitigation that could contribute to achieving zero waste.

Packaging Shape

Packaging is a critical part of the toothpaste life cycle. As previously mentioned, just changing something small, such as choosing not to include a toothpaste box, can have a difference in the waste output of the industry. Again looking at the manufacturing stage, adapting the packaging design of the toothpaste tube could have an even more significant impact.

Most current toothpaste designs include:

  • Metal tubes,
  • Plastic tubes,
  • Laminate tubes,
  • Stand-up tubes,
  • Pumps

These designs, though some may be more innovative, all find their way into the waste stream when the toothpaste runs out. Many of these designs are also challenging to clean, leaving little hope of being recycled, even if the material is highly recyclable. Addressing this issue and eliminating single-use plastics from the manufacturing process can help this industry improve its eco-footprint.

So how can this be improved? The use of a design that is innovative leaves the least amount of toothpaste at the end of its life and has the potential to be reusable. A design proposed by Malea et al., exceeds all of these criteria while optimizing accessibility. The design (see below) features a refillable mechanism that is innovatively designed to leave little residue while remaining accessible with an easy-to-use push feature.

Natural Ingredients

With toothpaste being a common consumer product, it is shocking that so many contain such harmful chemicals. As mentioned before, some of these chemicals include sulphates, fluorine, and triclosan. Addressing this concern will help contribute to sustaining Product Environmental, Health, and Safety Performance as a part of the SASB framework.

One innovative solution to eliminating chemicals used in toothpaste is to alter the recipe and switch to natural ingredients. A study by Rajhi et al., evaluated the success of using olive leaves as a base ingredient in toothpaste. This renewable, naturally antimicrobial product could help drastically improve the sustainability of toothpaste throughout its lifecycle from production to disposal. The rest of the recipe can vary using other natural ingredients such as green clay, cloves, green tea, and calcium carbonate, to name a few. Adapting toothpaste to contain mainly natural ingredients would dramatically improve the environmental and health impacts current toothpaste recipes may have. 

About Post Author

Sarah Lawless

Sarah graduated from Ryerson University (now Toronto Metropolitan University) in 2022. She holds an Honours Bachelors degree in Environment and Urban Sustainability with a minor in Geographic Analysis. With a professional background in urban sustainability, Sarah is passionate about education, food security, and green development and aspires to use and share her knowledge to help cities become more accessible and sustainable.
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