They say that after just six click-throughs, Facebook knows you better than you know yourself. I wasn’t so sure when it started showing me adverts for toothpaste tablets. But then I made the mistake of reading up a bit.
The problems with standard toothpaste
The issue, it seems, is three-fold: there’s the impact of harvesting the ingredients, there’s the chemical content that’s spat down the drain, and then there’s the tube itself.
- Most traditional toothpastes contain ingredients derived from palm oil, not just a major contributor to the deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests but also linked to the exploitation of workers and child labour.
- They also contain a host of chemicals that can have disastrous effects when discharged into the environment. For example, triclosan is a popular antibacterial, but in the quantities now found in our oceans it can disrupt hormones and impact the development of marine life – and get from them into us as well. And while the UK finally banned microbeads in toothpaste and other cosmetics in July 2018, the problem persists.
- Last but not least, there’s the tube, a mix of aluminium and plastic. Not only does its creation require large amounts of energy and result in vast CO2 emissions, but the result is a non-recyclable product that can take up to 700 years to degrade. With the over 1 billion tubes thrown out world-wide every year, that’s a lot of plastic leaching into our waterways and oceans and, ultimately, into us.
As with so many aspects of our everyday, it only takes a little investigation to start wondering why we ever allowed this way of doing things to seem normal.
Enter the toothpaste tablet. Clearly a sucker for advertising, I signed up for a trial of Pärla. A few days and £6.95+P&P later, a month’s supply arrived in a small glass jar direct from the UK-based manufacturer.
At their simplest, the tablets are dehydrated toothpaste – minus the chemicals needed to stop the paste drying out in a tube. And since traditional toothpaste is roughly 50% water, that’s a lot less weight and volume to freight from manufacturer to warehouse to retailer to home, so a far smaller carbon footprint – especially as these tablets are made in the UK.
They’re easy to use: just nibble them into powder and brush with a wet brush. The flavour isn’t as strong and the lack of palm oil means it doesn’t foam up the same (a reminder to spit rather than rinse), but my teeth feel just as clean afterwards and my wife isn’t avoiding me any more than usual, so the main surprise has been how quickly I got used to the difference.
So now it’s no to palm oil, animal testing and animal-derived ingredients. It’s no to artificial colours, sweeteners and chemicals like triclosan. And it’s no to the wastage of a plastic tube that can’t be recycled (see below *). Meanwhile it’s yes to plastic-free packaging around a product so sparklingly clean in conscience that it’s even vegan-friendly.
Importantly, Pärla tablets were invented by dentists. As a result, they contain fluoride, and in the same amount – 1450ppm – as you’ll find in major brands like Colgate.
After getting approval from my own dentist, I’ve now subscribed and got a four-month supply for £20. A full geeky analysis of how long your standard toothpaste is likely to last is available here, but I reckon on a new £2, 100ml traditional tube every two months. So even at the subscription rate, Pärla is a lot more expensive. But that’s often the way when you start to pay the real price rather than letting the planet pick up the hidden cost. And as more people turn to tablets – and I’m convinced they will – the price will surely fall. Meanwhile I’m fortunately able to afford the difference, even at the cost of affirming everything Facebook thinks it knows about me.
* Assuming you somehow clean out your traditional tubes thoroughly, they can actually be recycled now, along with all other oral care products, through a special scheme with Terracycle. It’s even possible to buy recyclable tubes. Unfortunately, though, just as with carbon offsetting, plastic recycling might be a balm for the conscience, but it’s definitely not a solution for the planet. There’s no getting around the truth that it’s always better to reduce than recycle.