Plastic toothpaste tubes are one of those mystery household items. Can they be recycled? It’s not obvious, but the answer is yes.
If you do a web search on ‘toothpaste tubes’ you will find it very difficult to get information on recycling. You will encounter vague information such as checking with your hauler or other state resource. You will also find ideas for how to reuse toothpaste tubes. But specific information on recycling is hard to come by.
Toothpaste tubes are almost always made out of the same plastics as other common household items, specifically LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene), or #4 plastic. They’re just harder to clean out and prepare, and you usually won’t see them listed on your hauler’s list of accepted items. But if your hauler or drop off facility accepts #4 plastics, you should be able to recycle them as long as they’re clean.
The same is true for metal toothpaste tubes. Although most are now made of plastic, some companies still use aluminum, and aluminum is completely recyclable everywhere. If your hauler refuses the tubes you can take them to any scrap metal dealer. Just make sure they’re clean.
How to prepare toothpaste tubes for recycling
Whether the tube is metal or plastic, the first thing you will need to do is clean it out. This is easily accomplished with a utility knife or sharp utility scissors.
First, cut the threaded neck off the top of the tube (and you probably will need to just throw that part in the trash).
Next, cut a slit all the way down the tube so you can spread it open.
Last, wash it out with warm soapy water. It’s ready to recycle!
You may actually be surprised how much toothpaste is left in the tube when you go through this process. Want to be super green? You can use all that residual toothpaste up before you proceed to washing out the tube.
Other recycling options
Tom’s of Maine offers a take-back program for their toothpaste tubes. Their tubes are made from #7 plastics, so again, your hauler can take them if they accept #7 plastics. If not, save them up and send them back to Tom’s where they will be properly recycled.
Terracycle has partnered with Colgate on the Colgate Oral Care Brigade. They accept toothpaste tubes, caps, toothbrushes and floss containers.
Ideas for Reuse
I was actually surprised by how many ideas there are for reusing toothpaste tubes. Here are a few of the more interesting ones.
1) Use the plastic to make crafts like change purses, toothbrush holders and pencil holders.
2) Fill the empty cleaned out tube with icing and use it as a cake decorator.
3) Use the empty tubes as sheathing to protect you from scissor and knife blades.
4) Hide money in them for shipping cash or during travel. Who would think to look for cash in a toothpaste tube?
Three companies in Brazil are using plastic toothpaste tubes as the base material for making furniture and other building materials. A Unilever plant in Vinhedo, Brazil, has partnered with these companies to not only accept their trim waste, reducing their annual waste production by 17 metric tons, but also to accept the post-consumer portion of the waste stream. Click here to read more about this program. These types of initiatives should be widely promoted in hopes of generating more interest in areas where they don’t exist.