What are the most ethical everyday products?
Having the full intent of becoming an ethical consumer
As a life project, I’ve committed to researching the most ethical brands of the products I consume such that I can change my spending habits to support the causes I believe.
I’m of the opinion that this is the best way as an individual to make an impact on the world; changing the way I consume, or lack thereof. However, I realize that there are a lot of logical traps in determining what is ethical, and I’m sure a lot of my other existing behaviors might be counter productive or downright hypocritical, but my intent is to at least start trying.
Thus, I’m deeming myself an “intentful” consumer (You’re right, intentful is not a real word).
New Belgium - CO, NC - B-Corp, employee-owned, wind & solar energy
Sierra Nevada - CA, NC - solar, CO2 recovery
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery - VA - 100% renewable energy
Allagash Brewing Company - ME - organic
Alaskan Brewing - AK - net-zero goal
Kona Brewing Co - HI
Maker’s Mark - KY - recycles waste
Journeyman - MI - organic
Flor De Caña - Nicaragua
DonQ - PR - composts wastes
Discarded Spirits - Scotland - made from food scrap waste
Misadventure - CA - made from bakery waste
Square One - IL - organic
Crop - NY - organic
TRU - CA - organic
Copper & Kings Distillery - KY - solar energy, water recycling
4 Copas - Mexico - organic
Casa Noble - Mexico
Discarded Spirits - Scotland - made from food scrap waste
Copper & Kings Distillery - KY- solar energy, water recycling
Bonterra - Ukiah, CA - Organic Wine
Benziger Family Winery Glen Ellen, California (Sonoma Valley) - sustainable
Honig Vineyard & Winery - Rutherford, California (Napa Valley) - solar power
WaterFire Vineyards Kewadin, Michigan
Hahn Family Wines - Soledad, California (Monterey County)
St. Francis Winery & Vineyards - Santa Rosa, California (Sonoma Valley)
Silver Oak Cellars - Oakville, California (Napa Valley); Healdsburg, California (Alexander Valley)
Ponzi Vineyards Sherwood, Oregon (Willamette Valley)
Like any beverage, a large portion of the environmental impact comes from the packaging and transport (also refrigeration, for beers). If not making it yourself, your goal should be to buy from local distilleries and breweries. Most local breweries and bars allow you to fill up reusable growlers. This is the best way to go, as recycling and producing new containers takes a lot more energy than you washing your own and filling up from kegs (which are also washed & reused). But if you’re going for six-packs, warm cans are the best option. Aluminum mining is horrible for the planet, however once produced, it’s the most recyclable and lighter than glass. Glass is the next best bet as long as it’s not being shipped far, which is another reason to buy local.
Water consumption is always a concern when it comes to food and beverages. Comparing between alcohol varieties, you can assume that the distilled varieties use more water, as they are usually distilled multiple times. However, people tend to drink less liquor, so it probably evens out? Even for the same type of alcohol, say beer, the usage can vary widely. One report said the ratio of water consumption to beer was 298:1, while Sierra Nevada reported 4:1. Perhaps some reports factor in end to end consumption (including water usage of raw ingredients), while others just report what they used for brewing their beer.
An interesting discovery this month, was that a few breweries are producing their liquors using food waste instead of grains, which greatly reduces their footprint. Discarded Spirits makes vermouth and rum using coffee bean husks and banana peels, while Misadventure makes their vodka from leftover bakery goods like breads, muffins, and cupcakes.
Some liquors, like tequila and rum, have waste problems and should ideally be avoided compared to other booze options. For every liter of tequila, you get about 11 pounds of pulp and 10 liters of acidic waste. Also, sugarcane is a notoriously destructive crop, producing massive amounts of wastewater and greenhouse gases… and Bacardi was sued for illegal waste dumping in the past. On the up side, DonQ rum turns its waste into compost and irrigation water (and my Puerto Rican friends rave about this brand).
FYI, I learned most beer is not vegan. A substance called Isinglass, a fish product, is used to remove yeast from beer.
In summary, try and make your own booze, but if you can’t, find someone local and use a refillable container. If you’re going for a big label, New Belgium is widely available and super ethical followed by Sierra Nevada. I should note that major labels like Bacardi and Budweiser are actually stepping up their sustainability game, so they’re at least moving in the right direction.
https://www.amalgamatedbank.com/ (B Corp, committed to environmental and social responsibility)
https://www.aspiration.com/ (B Corp, online banking w/ eco-friendly focus, has a nifty app to tell you the impact of the businesses you support via your purchase history)
https://www.ncb.coop/ (Cooperative bank)
https://www.schwab.com (Reimburses ATM fees, free trades, no foreign conversion fee, relatively good ethics compared to industry w/ diverse workforce & high employee satisfaction)
Banks are our communal tool for funding societal needs, so where you store your money is the best way you can have some control in the direction of what we fund as a society, and thus our future. Though, as you might imagine, it’s difficult to judge a bank as they’ve got their hands in all sorts of investments both “good” and “bad”. However, with return on investment for shareholders and executives a top priority (and legal responsibility) for the publicly traded mega-banks, there’s more motivation to turn a blind eye to funding controversial projects. A relevant aside, if you want to see if you’ve funded oil pipelines via your bank funding Energy Transfer Partners you can use this tool (odds are it does): https://howtodivest.org/.
Thus, I argue that we would benefit as a society by distributing wealth across more banks than an oligarchical few corporate mega-banks. While it would make funding large capital investments more challenging to coordinate, it would ensure that no one bank can be “too big to fail”, thus we could actually punish banks that counter our values. The concerns I have with corporate mega-banks is that it seems they have started offsetting losses from high risk investing by exploiting their baseline customers. They have dismal interest returns and exploitative fee structures (largely targeting the poor). Overdraft fees are not proportional to the amount of the overdraft, thus they typically end up being 300%+ high interest loans. Wachovia (now Wells Fargo) was caught reordering withdrawals in order to incite more overdraft fees (happened to me personally). Wells Fargo was caught opening fake accounts to meet sales targets. Bank of America at one time charged a fee to close an account (now outlawed in some states). Bank of America exorbitantly charged $.40+ per debit card swipe to merchants when the cost of processing the transaction was $.08. When laws limited their charge to $.21, they in turn charged customers $5 per month if they ever made a debit card purchase. To no surprise, the top banks have the lowest customer satisfaction.
So, to keep things simple, I’m recommending that you pursue using a local cooperative bank or credit union. These banks have a commitment to benefiting their members and not outside investors, which leaves them less vulnerable to schemes for short-term gains. In addition, they typically have higher savings account interest rates and better financing terms.
https://www.aspiration.com/summit/aim (bank program to track your ethical spending)
Tony’s Chocolonely $.87/ solid oz - slave-free, fair trade, minimal pesticides/chemicals, sustainability focus,100% recycled packaging
Alter Eco $2.44/solid oz, Certified B Corp, Fair trade, organic, carbon neutral, focus on sustainable packaging
Equal Exchange $1.43/ solid oz - organic, fair trade, cooperative owned
Chocolove $.95/oz - fair trade, rain forest alliance, organic, sustainable palm oil,
Theo $1/ solid oz - organic, fair trade, vegan
Newman’s Own $3.06/ solid oz - organic, rain forest alliance, donates 100% profits
Divine -- $1.33/ solid oz - direct trade, farmer cooperative owned
Taza - $1.30 /oz organic, vegan, direct trade
Dandelion Chocolate $5/ solid oz - direct trade, ethically sourced
Askinosie - $2.83/ solid oz, direct trade, vegan
Amano - $4.66 / solid oz small batch, “fairly traded”
There are some serious problems with the farming of cacao. Sixty percent of the worlds chocolate comes from Africa, and most of the farmers are living in drastic poverty, and this incentivizes farming families to utilize child labor, keeping them out of schools for a chance for a better future. On top of that, some farmers intentionally traffick children with the promises of good pay then treat them as slaves. For more details watch the Dark Side of Chocolate documentary.
As a food item, there are the standard environmental concerns: cultivation, transportation, processing, & packaging. The cacao ideally would be grown organic, however this is rare in the chocolate world, as it’s hard to encourage struggling farmers to adopt new practices. Most advocates for ethically sourced cacao are trying to address the poverty issue first before advancing organic practices. Regarding transportation, the cacao is only grown in tropical regions, so it has to be transported overseas and imported adding to its carbon footprint. Processing wise, most chocolate is roasted; however, a new trend is “raw” chocolate. The raw variety should technically have a lower carbon footprint and additionally is marketed as having better nutrition and antioxidants (though not verified by any studies). A lot of chocolate manufacturers add in palm oil which has its own environmental issues, so best to avoid that additive. Packaging-wise, chocolate should ideally be plastic-free (goodbye “fun sized” individually wrapped up little turds you like to call chocolate).
Certifications to the rescue! Maybe?
To help avoid supporting these problems, there’s a number of 3rd party certifications you can look out for on your labels. Note that a lot of the large corporate manufacturers have started creating their own certifications that have little auditing and transparency, so don’t just assume that any certification on the label is good enough, look for these specific ones:
Fairtrade - aims to tackle price volatility, which is very dangerous for small farmers who have very little ability to insure themselves against risks. Fairtrade thus guarantees farmers a minimum price, and a fixed premium on top. Some labor and environmental standards are also incorporated into the standard.
Rainforest Alliance - focus on production regulations, is stronger on environmental protection, bans deforestation of any kind
UTZ - production regulations
Direct Trade - cut out middlemen to improve price margins for farmers and easier to audit farmer practices
Random tidbit, Tony’s Chocolonely is throwing some blockchain into the chocolate world for a tamper-proof cacao tracking system.
To summarize, all of the major chocolate labels like Nestle & Hershey are not doing enough to produce ethical and eco-friendly chocolate. Keep in mind that chocolate is an exotic good that should be treated as a luxury, so buy less of it and just save up to buy some good fancy ethical shiiiight. For an extensive list of good chocolate brands to buy (or avoid), check out the Food Empowerment Project’s chocolate list.
DIY - baking soda, coconut oil, essential oils (like tea tree), optionally wax (bees or candelilla)
Ethique - $13 - $5.26/oz - b-corp, plastic-free (including shipping packaging), vegan, compostable
BeNat - $12.59 - $5.97/oz - plastic-free, compostable
Pack & Leaf - $18.99 - $5.28/oz - plastic-free, compostable
Biork - $19.85 - crystal, plastic-free, compostable, upcyclable
Way of Will - $17.75 - $6.70/oz - plastic-free
Prima-life - $19.97 - $4.32/oz - vegan, compostable
Schmidt -$9.99 - $3.07/oz vegan - plastic or glass
Personal Conscious Consumer Statement:
Pros: Works well, nice diverse scents available
Cons: Thick application not good for sleeveless shirts, and leaves some residue on shirts with sleeves. Comes in plastic push stick or glass jar (both of which are recyclable). https://schmidts.com/recycling-club
Organic Island - $14.99 - $3.75/oz - plastic-free
NativeEcos - $11.97 - $4.52/ox - plastic-free available
Coco Matter - $18 - $18/oz - plastic-free, vegan
Crystal - $5.92 - $1.39/oz - crystal, vegan, Ecopak plastic
Deodorants fall into cosmetic products, and I’m starting to notice a pattern. There are a lot of common cosmetic ingredients and fragrances that are controversial and not always well regulated, with inconclusive cancer studies, yada yada. So, to be safe, it’s best to stick to products with the fewest ingredients and fragrances. The top controversial aspects of deodorants are aluminum, parabens, triclosan, VOCs, and phthalates. Aluminum might cause cancer and other issues. Parabens might mimic the hormone estrogen and promote cancer growth. Triclosan might affect thyroid hormones. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can create smog/pollution. Phthalates might be linked to reproductive issues, low IQ, and asthma.
Uh, can I just not use deodorant? Well, actually deodorant has become popular just in the past century. Previously, people just used tons of perfume and also probably just stank. However, with the help of advertising propaganda, we became convinced that the love of our life is avoiding us because our pits stink, thus deodorant took hold. Nowadays, there’s a modern approach of using bacterial sprays that are supposed to balance the cultures on our body to minimize the effects of bacteria that grow in our pits and make us stank. MotherDirt produces one such product and the owner apparently hasn’t showered in years, but doesn’t really seem like a viable alternative in practice.
An alternative that was new to me was using “crystals” of potassium alum mineral salts for deodorant, and it seems it works rather well and apparently has been used as deodorant (among other uses) in Southeast Asia for centuries .
DIY recipes center around wax, coconut oil, some essential oils, and baking soda. A few recipes here & here.
I tend to not promote major brands as they’re typically entangled in questionable practices, however, I wanted to note that Proctor & Gamble is doing a test run of paper deodorant tubes for Secret and Old Spice deodorants. I think you just have to chance upon them in the wild at Wal-marts for the moment.
DIY recipe 1: https://greatist.com/health/diy-deodorant
DIY recipe 2: https://mommypotamus.com/homemade-deodorant-recipe-for-sensitive-skin/
TEVRA - vegan - $0.15/yd (+ prime membership or shipping)
Public Goods Floss - $0.06/yd (plus shipping and $59/yr membership)
Eco-dent - vegan - $0.04/yd (+ prime membership or shipping)
Tom’s floss (probably easiest to find, but not as eco friendly as others)
As you might know, a lot of floss is made with nylon and comes in plastic packaging, so we looked into options that are easier to recycle or compost.
I personally have used the Public Goods floss and it works great, but is non-vegan. A friend tried the TEVRA floss and plans to keep buying it, though noted that it is thicker than most floss so might not be best for those with tight teeth.
Uh, so they're all bad. While I can’t really rank them, I put the seemingly better ones at the top and tagged them with some info that you might find helpful:
Shell - arctic drilling
BP - infamous oil spills
Hess - Dakota Access Pipeline consumer
Phillips 66 - Dakota Access Pipeline, supports laws for felony charges for protestors
Marathon - Dakota Access Pipeline, supports laws for felony charges for protestors
Exxon - Funding climate change disinformation while privately acknowledging climate change, infamous oil spills
Dr Bronner’s Bar Soap - $4.50 - $.90/ solid oz (vegan) (plastic free)
Blueland Soap Tablets - $16 - $.22/oz (refillable w/ tablets)
Plaine Products Liquid Soap - $20 - $1.25/oz (vegan) refillable aluminum
Makes 3 Organics Naked Bar Soap - $8 - $2/ solid oz (plastic free)
Kiss My Face Bar Soap - $6 - $.50/solid oz (vegan)
Public Goods Hand Soap Refill - $11 - $.32/oz (plus shipping and $59/yr membership) (vegan)
Puracy Hand Soap Refill w/ glass container - $17.84 - $.28/oz (refillable glass option)
Method Hand Soap Refill - $12 - $.35/oz (100% recycled plastic)
Honey Sweetie Acres Bar Soap - $20 - $4.44/solid oz
Dr Bronner's seems like a hands down easy choice, it's affordable, widely available, and well rated in terms of being an eco-friendly company.
A big debate is if liquid soap is more sanitary than bar soap. From the NPR research that I found, it doesn’t make much of a difference. While bar soap definitely has leftover bacteria on it, when you combine it with water, it’s just as effective as lifting the bacteria off of your hand as it is lifting the bacteria back off of itself again.
Now, doing a comparison between the full life cycle environmental impacts of liquid soap vs bar soap, bar soap wins out. Less plastic, less water weight, easier to efficiently pack, less needed per wash, less chemicals, it all adds up.
Another debate revolves around antibacterial soap. Essentially, the consensus (of the FDA) is that it’s overkill and it’s just making the bacteria more resistant and more difficult to eliminate when it actually matters.
DIY - Horse chestnuts and/or vinegar
Tru Earth Laundry Strips - $.53/load - plastic-free, vegan
Well Earth Good Laundry Strips - $.50/load - plastic-free, vegan
Eco Nuts Detergent - $.17/load - plastic free, vegan
The Simply Co Detergent - $.30/load - plastic free, glass
Dropps Pods - $.19/load - plastic free
Meliora Detergent - $.32/load - cardboard & steel, fragrance-free, vegan
Tangie Laundry Paste - $.10/load - plastic-free
Dr Bronner’s Soap - $2.25/load - recycled plastic, widely available - Laundry: 1/3—1/2 c. of soap for a large load in a normal washer. Add ½ c. vinegar to the rinse cycle. Use half of these amounts for HE. For plastic-free, shred the bars and mix baking soda: https://www.peta.org/living/humane-home/diy-vegan-laundry-detergent/
Ecos $.10/load, Seventh Generation $.24/load, Bio-kleen $.08/load - all contain some plastic, widely-available
A lot of the name brand detergents use a plethora of chemicals and fragrances that have come into question. Fragrances cause allergic reactions in a sizeable portion of the population, to avoid them you need to find products labeled “Fragrance-free”, as merely “unscented” products can have scents added to mask other ingredient scents. Some detergent chemicals and fragrances are recognized by the EPA to be carcinogens, and researchers have been able to detect these chemicals in the output exhaust of dryers. However, while detected, no studies have yet examined for adverse health effects. Though, an undeniable health risk to consider for a lot of detergents is their risk of child poisoning, so don’t wash your kid’s mouth out with just any detergent (use Tide!). But seriously, don’t eat Tide pods.
In regards to the environment, phosphates have been in the news for a while, and are mostly banned in the United States for the detrimental effects they have on aquatic wildlife (promoting algae blooms) . However, there are also new additives that also have adverse effects on our fishy friends, such as surfactants which can damage their protective oily skins. On top of that, plastics from their containers end up in the water too (from plastic production), just watch this Dirty Money episode on Point Comfort. To make eco-friendly purchasing easier, the EPA has a “DfE” logo that approves detergents that are “Designed for Environment” so look out for it. You can also look up their opinions on safe chemicals.
Chemicals aside, the actual container and form have the same eco-friendly considerations as most soap. Avoid liquid soaps as they are less efficient from a shipping perspective, and try to avoid plastics. Lots of soap powders come in cardboard, some come as a paste, and there are even more concentrated versions that are merely strips.
So what else can you use? You may have heard of laundry balls that can replace using detergents entirely. Well, turns out they’re a scam and it’s not different than just washing your clothes in plain water. But hey, they will clean out your wallet ;)
Another interesting alternative is using horse chestnuts to make detergent. They’re poisonous so don’t eat them, but apparently it’s reasonably effective, although not recommended for whites. You can buy commercial versions that are likely better for whites.
Other simpler alternatives are just using straight vinegar or castile soap.
Ethique Butter Block - $.74/oz - plastic free - vegan
Chagrin Valley Lotion Bar - $7/ solid oz - plastic free - vegan
Moon Valley Organics Lotion Bar - $6.32/ solid oz - plastic free
Dr Bronner’s Lotion - $1.249/oz - 100% recycled plastic - vegan
Plaine Products Lotion - $1.875/oz - refillable aluminum - vegan
MadeOn Hard Lotion - $5.75/ solid oz - plastic free
Bluecorn Beeswax Lotion Bar - $6.66/ solid oz - single use tin
Public Goods Lotion - $.375/oz + membership
I learned that lotion bars are a thing and are the best option for avoiding plastic and other packaging for lotion. I also learned that ingredients in cosmetics are not really that regulated by the FDA thus there’s health and environmental concerns over common chemicals in mainstream lotions and cosmetics.
To keep things short, the best bet is to order lotion bars online, make DIY lotion yourself, or last resort buy Dr. Bronner’s lotion at the store. Some eco-friendly stores even offer lotion refill stations, so that’s an option too.
DIY peanut butter using local organic peanuts stored in reusable container
Santa Cruz Organic $.50/oz (organic, glass, green-focused, Smuckers owned)
Once Again $1.18/oz (organic, glass, employee owned)
Maranatha $.72/oz (organic, glass)
CB’s Nuts $.91/oz (organic, glass)
Spread the Love $.81/oz (organic, recycled plastic)
Yumbutter $.47/oz (organic, bcorp, plastic)
Whole foods 365 organic $.21/oz ( organic, widely-available, plastic)
Kirkland organic peanut butter $.39/oz (organic, widely-available, plastic)
A surprising tidbit I learned was that peanuts not carefully grown can contain a toxic mold, aflatoxin which is believed to be a cause for cancer, and the FDA regulates how much contamination is allowed in foods. The major PB brands are believed to be less risky when it comes to aflatoxin, under the assumption their peanut sources are more closely monitored before they’re purchased.
Another concern for peanut butter, which has been in the news is salmonella poisoning. It ended the likes of the Peanut Corporation of America and made Peter Pan pay $11 million in fines. The belief is that major PB brands are more of a risk for salmonella than indie brands, since they use shared facilities that handle other foods.
Okay, so if you’re still eating peanut butter after that, in comparison to other nut butters, it’s at least better than almond butter environmentally (and also other tree nuts). Almonds consume large amounts of water and are primarily grown in areas of California that were once deserts, fed by aqueducts and aquifers that are surrounded in controversy. In contrast, a majority of peanuts are grown in the southern US. Processing wise, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in environmental impact between different nuts.
In regards to carbon footprint, 1kg of peanut butter produces 2.88 kg CO2e. In comparison, an equivalent mass in meats typically produces 5-10 times as much. Organic peanuts are mostly grown in China and elsewhere abroad, so they have a higher transportation footprint. However, personally, I think supporting organic is worthwhile to incentivize American farmers to switch over.
So, as far as packaging options go for PB, it’s either glass or plastic. Glass is heavier and prone to breaking, so is less efficient when being transported long distances. So technically, CO2-wise, if the peanut butter isn’t produced and packaged locally, you should buy plastic (ideally recycled). However, in my personal opinion, it’s best to stick to glass due to overall ease of recyclability and avoids the environmental hazards of supporting plastics production. If you’re still gonna buy plastic, you should note that plastic squeeze pouches use less plastic than rigid containers, so the squeeze peanut butters can have less of a footprint.
To avoid the packaging conundrum altogether, it’s probably best to purchase peanuts in bulk and grind them into your own reusable containers. Most grocery stores have grinders you can use, and you can bring and pre-weigh your own container.
Another thing to pay attention to are common additives, such as palm oil (associated to tropical deforestation), hydrogenated oils, added salts, and sugars (all health concerns).
LivBar - ($1.77/Ounce) - Compostable Packaging
Regrained - ($1.12/Ounce) - B-Corp - Attempting Compostable Packaging but had issues, Upcycled grains
DIY Cereal Bars - (https://www.platingpixels.com/peanut-butter-cereal-bars/, https://thebigmansworld.com/healthy-3-ingredient-no-bake-cereal-bars/ )
Patagonia Provisions Almond Bar ($1.88/Ounce) - Responsibly sourced, packaging conscious
This Bar Saves Lives - ($.69/Ounce) - Donates to developing nations
Clif Bars - ($.70/Ounce) - Organic, packaging conscious
Nature’s Path - ($.65/Ounce) - Organic
Nestle Yes! Bars - Recyclable wrapper, only available in UK, Nestle is a horrible company but can help steer in the right direction
Overall, the main takeaway is that the problem with cereal bars (and snacks in general) is the single use packaging. This packaging is usually plastic or foil and is not easily recyclable. If you need convincing that you should avoid purchasing plastic, watch this Netflix doc on Point Comfort. Pretty much all of the common cereal bar brands you know have non-recyclable packaging.
So, the best option is to purchase cereal bars that have compostable packaging, or not buy them at all in lieu of other snacks you can package yourself like trail mix (purchased in bulk) and fruits/veggies. I did find a few easy DIY cereal bar recipes, and the primary ingredients are typically peanut butter and melted honey or syrup that’s then mixed w/ grains then refrigerated. So, I guess I better research ethical peanut butter soon.
Compostable packaging isn’t easy, some companies like Regrained have had to revert to traditional packaging due to shipping damage issues, and FritoLay’s SunChip had to revert due to sales dropping from the compostable bag being too loud.
Dentab - $.08/tablet - vegan, plastic-free, fluoride or fluoride-free
Chomp - $0.13/tablet - plastic-free, fluoride-free
DIY - fluoride-free
Dr Bronnor’s - $1.46/oz - fluoride-free, vegan, 100% recycled plastic
Humble Co - $1.57/oz - fluoride, vegan, 100% recycled plastic
Burt’s Bees - $0.69/oz - fluoride or fluoride-free, cruelty-free (mail-back recycling but curb recycle tube in 2021)
Miswak - $.80/brush - vegan, fluoride-free, plastic wrapper
Hello - tube: $1.02/oz - vegan, fluoride or fluoride-free - tablets: $0.13/tablet - plastic free, fluoride-free
Tom’s of Maine -$1.00/oz - fluoride or fluoride-free, SLS, mostly vegan products (Terracycle, or curb recyclable if has blue flag)
Colgate - US: $.60/oz SLS, fluoride, Terracycle - UK: £.33/ml, vegan, fluoride, curb recyclable
With respect to the environment, the primary concern is that a lot of toothpaste tubes are difficult to recycle. There are indeed brands that use plastic-free containers however, in the USA, those toothpastes also don’t include fluoride. So, for the most part, you have to pick between fluoride and plastic-free toothpaste. Although, there is some hope regarding recyclable tubes. One option is to buy a terracycle box, and buy Tom’s of Maine toothpaste or Colgate. Another option is to hold out for curb recyclable tubes from Burt’s Bees and Tom’s of Maine who are rolling them out in 2021 (and eventually Colgate who currently has a curb recyclable brand in the UK). The only plastic-free option I could find with fluoride were some toothpaste tablets imported from Germany that you can buy on Amazon. I really like them, but they’re a bit abrasive which do give that good and clean after-dentist feel, but also make me feel like I should avoid using them every day to avoid grinding away my teeth.
Do I even need fluoride?
This is something you need to ask your dentist. Undoubtedly you’re aware of the controversy and conspiracy surrounding Fluoride. My dentist advised me that as an adult, I most likely don’t need it, especially given that my city water is likely giving me enough. Some critics argue that the issue with fluoride in dental products is that there’s not a good way to provide a consistent fluoride dosage across a population. Some people brush multiple times a day, some only once. Some use the appropriate pea size dab, while others slather it down as if their brush was on an Aquafresh commercial.
The coolest dig I stumbled upon was that there might be an alternative that is more effective than fluoride, theobromine. It’s an ingredient naturally occurring in cocoa, and is being researched as a safer alternative, thus some DIY toothpaste recipes are throwing it in, but no studies that I’m aware of have proven the effectiveness of a DIY paste. Theodent is a commercial brand currently using it, but it does not have eco-friendly packaging.
Other problematic ingredients?
Here’s a quick summary of other things to look out for in toothpaste: Long list of unknown ingredients that are likely bad for you and the environment (keep it simple, keep it safe), palm oil which is linked to rain forest deforestation, microbeads that leach plastic into water streams, triclosan (mostly banned) an unnecessary antibacterial, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) an allergen to some people but not really harmful.
No toothpaste at all?
So, if you’re giving up fluoride and other chemicals, can you give up toothpaste altogether? The answer is most likely, yes. Without fluoride, the main effectiveness of brushing is the physical act, not the paste, so if you’re giving it up, you could likely get rid of paste altogether, as the effects of other ingredients aren’t as proven to help. You could even go old school and get a miswak, a stick with antibacterial properties that in some studies has been shown to be just as effective as a toothbrush with paste and is the primary dental tool in some cultures. By the way, have I ever mentioned I’m not a dentist?
As expected most major labels are surrounded in a ton of past ethical controversy and don’t offer plastic-free or recyclable products, so as far as brands you’ve probably heard of, stick to Dr Bronner’s, Burtt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine, and at worst Colgate.