This woman has a solid solution to eco-friendly dental hygiene
A Tītahi Bay start-up is bringing sustainable toothpaste to the masses, cancelling out plastic tubes in the process.
Words: Peter Griffin
Bin day looms. Time to sort the plastics, cans, bottles and cardboard into the correct recycling bins. But where does the spent toothpaste tube go?
Into general waste and then landfill is the answer. This bathroom staple typically comes in a plastic tube, with a thin lining of aluminium for flexibility and to keep the paste fresh. Toothpaste tubes are hard to recycle.
Every year, New Zealanders throw away 16 million spent tubes; 1.5 billion are discarded globally. When working as a dental hygienist and therapist, Laura Nixon (pictured) became disillusioned with the waste associated with oral-care products.
“The amount of packaging we would get through daily in the clinic was huge,” she says. “The products I was recommending were all plastic too.”
While on maternity leave with her first child, Laura began researching toothpaste formulations and sustainable packaging.
“I’ve always been a bit of a tinkerer. I like to solve problems.”
After the birth of her younger son, the tinkering led to the creation of Solid Oral Care. In 2019, Laura and her partner and co-founder Adam McConnochie converted the bottom level of their Tītahi Bay, Porirua,
home into a toothpaste lab.
There isn’t a tube in sight on Solid’s online store, where the humble glass jar serves as the delivery container for the brand’s range of homegrown toothpaste, tablets, powders and mouthwashes. The tablets and powders, a throwback to the days before paste became the norm, turn to paste in the mouth.
But how to compete with a toothpaste giant like Colgate? The ingredients themselves are fairly standard — typically a mix of sorbitol, which keeps the toothpaste from drying out, calcium carbonate to create the abrasive effect that removes plaque from the teeth, fluoride to strengthen the tooth surface, and flavouring.
As well as mastering toothpaste chemistry, Laura became chief taster, coming up with the obligatory peppermint flavour, as well as cinnamon, orange and strawberry versions for the mint-averse.
But Colgate is the toothpaste king for a reason — its strong branding and retail distribution. Solid has had to work hard to carve out a value proposition for itself. Its appeal is to those conscious of the problem of plastic packaging and willing to buy more sustainable alternatives.
Solid’s oral-care products are on sale in 45 mainly eco- and wholefood stores and a handful of dental surgeries and pharmacies.
A jar of toothpaste, which costs $12 with enough paste for 180 uses, can be sent back to the store to be sterilised and re-used by Solid. A refill scheme is also getting off the ground.
“We came up with a machine that hygienically dispenses toothpaste,” Laura says. The aim is for Solid users to take an empty jar into a store to get a refill. Two refill stations are in operation so far. But the online store also supports toothpaste subscriptions, regularly couriering customers a top-up of toothpaste and a new toothbrush.
Laura and Adam aim to claim five per cent of the $80 million toothpaste market. But they also have their eye on bringing their sustainable approach to other oral-care products, from dry mouth gels and high-fluoride toothpaste to dental floss and a wider range of sustainable toothbrushes.
With four staff and a new hire on the way, Solid will seek new premises to expand production, though Laura loves making toothpaste a stone’s throw from the beach with the birdsong of tūī and kererū in the background.
“I started with a few hundred dollars in the bank, and we have bootstrapped Solid from there,” she says. “It’s been a case of learning to make all this stuff and then scale up as well.”
An upcoming capital-raising round will help fund the new production facility and an expansion into Australia and Singapore.
Headwinds: “Getting in front of more people. They aren’t going to make the switch if they don’t know about us.”
Tailwinds: “People are becoming so much more knowledgeable about climate change. We’re not going to save the world with toothpaste, but we are one of a group of businesses trying to do things better. That works in our favour.”
What’s next? ”We’ll be rolling out our toothpaste refill machines across the country and bringing out a zero-waste teeth-whitening kit.”
16 million – toothpaste tubes are discarded annually in Aotearoa, along with 20 million plastic toothbrushes. 1.5 billion tubes are discarded globally
30,000 – toothpaste tubes saved from landfill thanks to Solid
$500 million – the size of the toothpaste market in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore combined
$82 million – the size of the New Zealand toothpaste market (up from $68 million five years ago)