WASHINGTON – Why do toothpaste companies package their product in boxes when it already comes in a tube?
American consumers last year bought 423.5 million units of leading toothpaste brands like Colgate, Sensodyne and Crest, according to Statista, and all of the products are sold in a paperboard box.
Alan Wurman, an award-winning film and theater composer, said in a YouTube video that toothpaste boxes are useless.
“The box makes it more expensive for the makers and for the buyers,” he said in the video, “and the only thing we do with it is to throw it away.”
The creation of paperboard contributes to deforestation, increased water consumption and higher greenhouse gas emissions, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. In the United States, pulp and paper production is the sixth-largest contributor to air, water and land contamination.
None of the manufacturers of the toothpastes responded to requests for comment for this story.
Brian Westerlind, the communications manager of the Paperboard Packaging Council, said there is no reason to advocate to get rid of paperboard boxes because the material is gathered from tree farms used specifically for this reason.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, organic materials including paperboard accounted for 67.2 million tons, or 26 percent, of 258.5 million tons of total waste materials in 2014.
Although the EPA reported that “the highest recycling and composting rates were achieved in paper and paperboard,” these materials still made up 14.3 percent of about 136 millions tons of municipal solid waste.
Andrea Ruiz-Hays, the director of strategic alliances for Recycle Across America, said this problem is connected to recycling contamination, when materials normally accepted for recycling are soiled and should be thrown out but are still put in recycling bins.
These materials can’t be recycled and forces recycling centers to throw out bales of recycling, even if contaminated products only make up a third of the container.
Landfills are the largest source of methane, the second most important greenhouse gas that adds to global warming after carbon dioxide, and paper degradation in landfills perpetuates this problem, scientists say.
The U.S. previously had been sending about 40 percent of its recycling to China, which used the scrap material for manufacturing to help fuel its economic boom.
For almost 25 years, Western countries had been sending their recycling to Asian countries but China ended this practice in January 2018 by banning imports of different types of plastic and paper to protect against environmental pollution.
To add to the dilemma, as scientists learn more about human-induced climate change, it is becoming more apparent that recycling isn’t the answer to helping the planet.
Instead, people need to work more on reducing waste through their consumption habits, according to Daria Scala, a policy analyst who evaluates potential environmental impacts of conservation policy and legislative actions at the federal Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service.
She said that the more things someone buys, the greater the ecological impact.
“Economic growth as defined by GDP has been shown to disproportionately affect ecological boundaries or ecological impacts,” she said. “It’s not even a one-to-one relationship, but for every one unit of GDP growth, you get more than one unit of ecological (damage).”
According to Scala, everything in modern life is tied to consumer habits and the solution “doesn’t come from switching, it comes from reducing.”
The USDA Forest Service, in a preliminary research report from 1999, found that paper and paperboard demand was projected to decline, but “overall consumption is projected to increase with growing population.”
Wurman mentioned that Iceland bypassed this problem and sells 90 percent of its toothpaste without a box, which he claims is only used to make the product look better.
Wurman says in the video that this change happened because the people of Iceland consciously made the decision to change how they consume and treat waste, forcing politicians and corporations to sell toothpaste with no boxes.
In connection to the video about getting rid of toothpaste boxes, Ruiz-Hays said that she thinks it’s a great idea by making people more conscientious about what they’re buying and reducing the amount of packaging being used.
Wurman created a petition two months ago to get rid of toothpaste boxes and it has about 52,000 signatures. His goal is to get 75,000 signatures.