Does Toothpaste Decompose

“Curious whether Toothpaste goes undergoes decomposition? Join us as we uncover the chemistry of Toothpaste and discover whether it can decompose. 

No, Toothpaste does not decompose naturally or traditionally. Even when you will try to decompose Toothpaste, it won’t break down by any natural chemical process. Toothpaste never breaks into its original components, neither it naturally decays over time. However, Toothpaste that is left for long after its expiration date can undergo some changes in its color, texture, and effectiveness. These changes are primarily temperature fluctuations and exposure to air and moisture. 

Instead of decomposing, some toothpaste can dry out over time. Or, with time, Toothpaste, upon drying out, can turn into a thicker or more solid form losing all its potential flavors. Even the actives in Toothpaste, specially Fluoride, lose their potency gradually. Ingredients like binders, preservatives, and flavorings in toothpaste break down or degrade over time. However, regardless of all these changes, Toothpaste doesn’t decompose fully or in the traditional manner at any time. 

How Long Does It Take For Toothpaste To Biodegrade?

Toothpaste is a combination of organic and inorganic ingredients. Typically due to the presence of inorganic ingredients, Toothpaste can never fully biodegrade. However, some of its parts can biodegrade due to the presence of organic ingredients, but that’s very less likely. 

The organic ingredients in Toothpaste, including plant-derived components and natural flavors, may potentially biodegrade under the right conditions. Bacteria and other microorganisms present in the environment may break down these ingredients. However, Toothpaste contains inorganic ingredients, including abrasives, binders, and preservatives. Since these are less readily biodegradable, they may take very long (years) to biodegrade. 

So what happens to the Toothpaste that we use and spit daily? Well, Toothpaste is likely used in a very small amount, perhaps pea-sized. When we use, spit, and rinse down the Toothpaste into the drain, it goes into the wastewater treatment system. The wastewater treatment system makes toothpaste water undergo a series of processes for removal.

Various substances in Toothpaste are removed and treated depending on the treatment system. And once done with that, the water is cleaned for sending back into the environment. However, some components of Toothpaste could not separate and go into the environment with water. And in fact, it stays in its original form since the biodegradable process is less readily possible. 

Does Toothpaste Affect The Environment?

Yes, Toothpaste can affect the environment both directly and indirectly. Even when used in a small amount, the production, use, and disposal can impact the environment in one or other ways. 

Here are some of the concerning ways in which Toothpaste affects the environment:

  1. As we rinse Toothpaste down the drain daily, it enters the wastewater system. Although these treatment plants are designed to remove contaminants from Toothpaste, some components may remain there, including chemicals, microplastics, and antibacterial agents. And as these residual substance mixes with water and enter the environment again, they can potentially harm the ecosystems, especially aquatics.
  2. A range of toothpaste formulas include microbeads or microplastic polymers. These microplastic particles aren’t degradable, and when they pass through wastewater treatment systems, they deposit in lakes, rivers, and oceans. It, again, is a major threat to marine life. Any marine creature ingests these microplastic particles and clogs them in their food chain leading to potential hazards. 
  3. If not toothpaste formula, the toothpaste tubes, which are often made of plastic and aluminum, can lead to landfill accumulation. Since plastic and aluminum toothpaste tubes don’t recycle, they impact the environment and wildlife.
  4. Lastly, the production, packaging, and transportation of Toothpaste consume energy and resources and thus contribute to carbon emissions and environmental degradation.

Ways To Reduce The Environmental Impact Of Toothpaste

  1. Switch to toothpaste brands that prioritize natural and biodegradable ingredients. Learn about brands that avoid microplastics, and use eco-friendly or minimal packaging. 
  2. Always Check your local recycling guidelines and dispose of toothpaste tubes for recycling. You can also consider homemade Toothpaste or other toothpaste alternatives.
  3. Use Toothpaste in moderation. When not much is required, you can unnecessarily follow a dry/ wet brushing routine without using Toothpaste.
  4. Turn off the tap while brushing and reduce water wastage.
  5. Choose environmentally conscious brands for Toothpaste, toothbrush, or other oral care products.

What Can We Do With Empty Toothpaste?

Instead of throwing them into the dustbin, you can use your empty toothpaste tubes multiple times. Here are some tips for the same:

  1. Always send empty toothpaste tubes, boxes, and even toothbrushes to the recycling facilities. You can find one in your locality or online. 
  2. Make use of old and empty toothpaste tubes for DIY crafts and projects.
  3. Upcycle and repurpose old toothpaste tubes and use them in small plant pots, creating art installations or sculptures. 

Brand That Offers Zero Waste Toothpaste

While rarely any toothpaste can decompose completely, you can still find brands that offer low or zero-waste Toothpaste. Here are some examples of the same:

Butter Me Up Organic Activated Charcoal Toothpaste:

They use only nontoxic premium and purely organic ingredients. This waste-free Toothpaste comes in a glass jar with a metal lid. It is non-GMO, cruelty-free, sulfate-free, paraben-free, dyes or fragrance-free, and comes with compostable pouches.

Etee plastic-free toothpaste tablets: 

Their fluoride chew paste is all kinds of sustainable and proven to fight cavities. 

Happy Zero Waste Toothpaste Tablets:

It is made with coconut, tea tree, and Xylitol sweetener. The brand is 100% vegan and cruelty-free and only uses sustainably and ethically sourced ingredients. Their packaging is compostable or recyclable, complete with water-based ink labels.

Dirt’s Powdered Toothpaste: 

This Los Angeles brand uses bentonite clay powders and makes completely decomposable Toothpaste. Their products are cruelty-free and free of soy, corn, and gluten. 

Does Toothpaste Decompose In Hydrogen Peroxide? 

Toothpaste may undergo decomposition in Hydrogen Peroxide, but the extent and rate of decomposition can vary. 

Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizing agent, and with some toothpaste ingredients, it can cause chemical reactions leading to decomposition. Peroxide can react with flavors, binders, certain active ingredients, or other organic compounds. 

However, using Hydrogen peroxide for intentionally decomposing Toothpaste is not a common or recommended practice.

What Is The Decomposition Of Elephant Toothpaste?

“Elephant toothpaste” isn’t typically a toothpaste for humans or elephants but rather a dramatic chemistry demonstration. It is quite popular in chemistry labs for producing those large, foamy gas eruptions. 

The Elephant toothpaste reaction basically involves mixing Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), Potassium iodide (KI), and Liquid detergent. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) here is a catalyst.  

Here is a general overview of the reaction and the decomposition process:

  • Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is a relatively unstable compound. When a catalyst like potassium iodide (KI) is added to hydrogen peroxide, it initiates the decomposition reaction.
  • The potassium iodide (KI) catalyst lowers the activation energy required for the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide, allowing the reaction to proceed more rapidly.
  • As hydrogen peroxide decomposes, it breaks down into water (H2O) and releases oxygen gas (O2) as a byproduct.
  • The soap or detergent added to the mixture helps to trap and stabilize the oxygen gas, creating a large foam-like eruption.

Can I Biodegrade Elephant Toothpaste?

Elephant Toothpaste reaction typically forms a foam that isn’t biodegradable. The soap or detergent used in the reaction is meant to stabilize and trap the oxygen gas to create that huge foam. And since all of these substances are often synthetic, breaking them to biodegrade isn’t easy. 

It is recommended to follow proper disposal procedures for the leftover foam after performing the Elephant Toothpaste reaction. Check with your local waste management guidelines to determine the appropriate disposal method. 

Does Unopened Toothpaste Expire?

Yes, both opened, and unopened Toothpaste expire according to the shelf life or expiration date printed on their packaging. The active ingredients present in the toothpaste formula degrade over time. It doesn’t typically become harmful after expiration but may lose its effectiveness. 

The expiration date of any toothpaste indicates that it is the time frame for which the Toothpaste is expected to remain effective and safe to use. 

Bottom Line…

Overall, Toothpaste doesn’t decompose since it isn’t all organic. There are brand coming up with toothpaste powder and some other formulations that are highly decomposable. However, since these brands are limited, or fall under the premium category not everyone can afford them. 

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