Environmental Impact of Teeth Whitening Strips

Goals

To identify the potential negative environmental and health impacts of teeth whitening strips (e.g., Crest Whitening Strips) in order to inform a competitive launch marketing message. Specific data points of interest include:
  • Environmental impact of unused or used (and discarded) strips
  • An annual number of unused strips
  • Identification of toxic ingredients or plastics in the product

Early Findings

Data Availability

  • Data availability directly associated with proof points suggesting that tooth whitening strips are a significant environmental hazard, or that professionals or consumers are concerned with the sustainability impact of these products, is low. Additionally, there was no information uncovered indicating waste or specific usage of the number of whitening strips used or discarded by consumers.
  • There is more information in the public domain surrounding oral care brands and products focused on product and packaging sustainability when a broader category definition is used (e.g., toothbrushes, toothpaste, general whitening products). Research recommendations will reflect a pivot to this expanded category focus.

Crest White Strips

  • According to the brand website, the ingredients in Crest White Strips include water, glycerin, hydrogen peroxide, carbomer, Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP), PEG, Acrolytes Copolymer, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Saccharin, Pyrophosphate. The strip itself is composed of polyethylene and polypropylene. This brand is the only whitening product currently endorsed by the American Dental Association.
  • Crest messaging focuses largely on efficacy benefits ("Visibly Whitens Teeth In Just Days"). The brand notes the "extensive research and clinical trials" conducted to emphasize safety for the user ("proven to be safe to use").
  • The brand does not directly address waste or sustainability in their messaging or FAQ, though parent company P&G suggests a focus on sustainability (including reduced plastic use) across their full brand portfolio.
  • New York City dentist, Dr. Janet Stoess-Allen, DMD, says "None of the listed ingredients in Crest Whitestrips have [been] shown to be unhealthy or dangerous to the enamel of teeth" and recommends the product to her own patients.

Sales

  • There is limited information on sales for the whitening strips market (most of the focus is on whitening in general, not all of which includes the strips form). There is some limited information on category sales, with Statista placing 2018 North America sales at ~$270.5 million.
  • Crest Whitestrips are priced somewhere between $29.99 and $39.99 (average $35.00), suggesting 7.7 million strips ($280 million sales/$35 per kit). This estimate should be considered a lower bound since the whitening category is growing (~4.95% CAGR through 2026, according to Mordor Intelligence) and the Statista information is several years old.

Consumer Environmental and Waste Concerns: White Strips

  • No notable concerns associated with the environment or ingredient toxicity emerged in a large set of consumer reviews of Crest 3D White Luxe Whitestrips Teeth Whitening Kit on Amazon.
  • Similarly, across nearly 1,000 reviews of Rembrandt Whitening Strips, no concerns emerged associated with waste, environmental impact, or sustainability.

Environmental Impact of Specific Whitening Strip Ingredients

  • Polypropylene is considered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be a less toxic plastic.
  • While not referring specifically to white strips, Green America notes that polyethylene is generally considered an environmentally safer plastic.
  • One research study describes hydrogen peroxide as "a green oxidant that decomposes in water and oxygen."
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) was revealed in several sources to be a substance with low biodegradability and potentially harmful to the environment.

Oral Care Brands and Sustainability

  • While not specific to whitening strips, oral care companies appear to be embracing a focus on the recyclability of other products (toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes) that may include these plastics. Colgate is focusing on its "first-of-its-kind" recyclable tube (which is composed of polypropylene and polyethylene). Preserve offers toothbrushes made from recycled yogurt cups (100% recycled polypropylene). Unilever's Oral Care focus is shifting to a reduction of plastic waste (moving toward fully-recyclable packaging, made from high-density polyethylene), toothbrushes made from eco-friendly ingredients such as bamboo, and natural ingredients.
  • This recent Forbes article highlights several oral care brands that are working toward addressing packaging waste.

White Strips: Brands With Sustainability Focus

  • A Healthline review rated "ELIMS Magic Melt-Away Teeth Whitening Masks" as the most eco-friendly and sustainable due to the absence of a plastic strip (implying waste and negative environmental impact due to the plastic strip).
  • A review of leading natural whitening products highlights the non-toxicity of Luminex Certified Non-Toxic Whitening Strips, which emphasize the brand's 9 non-toxic certifications (pointing to an ingredients focus). The review and brand itself but do not discuss the sustainability of the strips.

Summary

  • This first hour of research was spent determining data availability in the public domain to help validate the concept that whitening strips have a negative impact on the environment and providing some initial topline findings.
  • We were able to identify some potentially toxic ingredients (PEG) and two niche whitening strip brands with a focus on sustainability (one which focused on the lack of plastic whitestrips and one which focused on non-toxic ingredients).
  • Notably, there did not appear to be any focus among professionals, brands, or consumers on the potential waste or negative environmental impact of whitening strips.
  • We found that the broader oral care category was more focused on sustainability, with recent product launches and processes focused on reducing plastic waste, developing packaging recycling programs, and encouraging more natural ingredients.
  • There appears to be a greater focus (and more available data) on higher penetration product categories, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste (whose packaging and product composition likely create more waste than white strips). While white strips may also create some waste and have a negative environmental impact, the focus on white strips has largely been on the consumer health and efficacy impact, not the environmental impact (yielding relatively no category-specific data in the public domain related to environmental impact or sustainability).
  • Given that many of the sustainability concerns associated with the broader oral care category may be relevant to developing a competitive environmentally-focused positioning for white strips, further research will take this broader view.
  • Topline insights are mainly focused on the US market. If a broader or different geographic focus is desired, please note this in the comments.

Research proposal:

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