There are so many things we touch every day without really thinking about their end of life. For example, what happens when you've squeezed out the last of your toothpaste? Can you recycle toothpaste tubes, or should they go in the trash?
Most recycling drop-off or curbside programs accept paper, metal, glass, cardboard, and plastics specific to their area. But knowing how to recycle toothpaste tubes and other items, such as cartons and to-go cups, is important to making sure your recycling program remains viable.
Can You Recycle Toothpaste Tubes?
If you're hoping to recycle your toothpaste tubes in your community, there are a few things to know. Most of these tubes are made of multiple layers of plastic and aluminum. Aluminum helps the tube keep its shape when you squeeze and fold it. Unfortunately, tubes made from mixed materials have a red light for recycling.
This means you should probably toss your toothpaste tube in the trash, right? Not so fast.
Tom's of Maine has switched their toothpaste to a new type of tube that's made entirely of a type of plastic accepted in most recycling streams: high-density polyethylene plastic (plastic #2). Colgate has committed to switching all their brands of toothpaste to this tube by 2025. This is an important and exciting shift!
So, are toothpaste tubes recyclable? To find out, inspect your tube. Does it fold and keep its shape nicely? If so, it has a layer of aluminum and can't be recycled. If it doesn't stay put, read the fine print on the side. Does it mention that the tube is fully made of plastic? Check whether your community has a size range for accepted plastic recyclables. If you're not sure, contact your solid waste district or waste hauler directly.
How to Recycle Toothpaste Tubes
In the case that you can recycle your toothpaste tube, squeeze out and use all the product that you can before recycling—no need to cut open or rinse out your tube. Ask your waste authority if they prefer that you leave the cap on. The standard practice for Tom's of Maine recyclable tubes is to keep them on, but this may not be the same in every community.
Upcycling Toothpaste Tubes
Taking a second look at trash as a useful resource is another shift we should all take in our waste reduction journey. If you can't recycle your toothpaste tube, consider what else you might do with it. The ability to retain its shape can be useful. Cut off the ends, clean out the toothpaste, and get creative. Use the tube to keep your wrapping paper tidy. Fold down one side, cover the tube with pretty paper, and use it as a cutlery sleeve. Discover more ideas with these fun toothpaste tube crafts.
Navigating Community Recycling
Recycling can seem like the same thing as throwing away trash: toss your waste in the bin and move on. But when you toss a piece of trash into the recycling, it contaminates the entire recycling stream, which decreases the value of the final recycled product. It can help to shift your mindset to think of recycling as a commodity instead of simply as waste.
Here's how it works. Once your recycling is collected from the curb or your drop-off location, it's taken to a material recovery facility (MRF, pronounced "merf") and sorted and prepared to be sold to an end buyer. There are a few things that can compromise the success of this process. Say you eat a single serving of cottage cheese every day and put the containers out with your recycling. If your MRF doesn't accept these tubs, some may be sorted out, but likely not all. This will contaminate the recycling, and the resulting bale of plastic will be valued at and sold for less.
In addition, sorting systems don't always sort out trash correctly. Items such as shredded paper and plastic bags can also jam the equipment. If you want your recycling program to be strong, you need to only recycle what's accepted in your community.
Keeping Your Recycling Stream Clean
Many recycling programs make it easy to know what to recycle. They often print recycling guidelines right on top or on the side of the recycling bin. If that's not the case in your community, check out your local solid waste district's website and study their list of acceptable items. You might be surprised, and perhaps you'll find that you can recycle more materials than you realized. Many MRFs recently started accepting cartons and to-go cups, for example. Always stick to the list of acceptable items. Don't "wish-cycle" and risk contaminating the recycling with trash.
Feeling inspired? Learn more about how you can recycle items that may not be accepted in your city program—such as mouthwash bottles, deodorant containers, and toothbrushes—through the Tom's of Maine partnership with TerraCycle.
The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.
Why It's Good
Knowing what you can and can't recycle in your community helps to keep the recycling stream clean and running smoothly.