Unpaste, a company that makes tooth tabs to reduce the waste that comes from using toothpaste tubes, was recently announced as one of the winners of Amazon’s Products for Tomorrow awards. Co-founder & CEO Patrick Graham shares how he learned about Unpaste’s win and the story behind how the company got started.
Patrick Graham was on a business trip in the fall of 2022 when he learned Unpaste, a company he co-founded with his friend Lin Adler in 2019, was named a winner of Amazon’s Products for Tomorrow awards. The awards program, which was announced earlier the same year, seeks innovative products that are created with sustainability in mind. Unpaste’s innovative, chewable tooth tabs that transform into a tooth-cleaning paste fit the bill perfectly.
Patrick admits that he only entered for the awards program because his sales team urged him to. “I went over the application, and I thought, ‘There’ll be hundreds of thousands of people applying for this. I’ll fill it out and I’ll do it correctly, but there’s no way we’ll get it.’ I filled it out, and forgot about it,” he laughs. Patrick was more than shocked when he learned the good news several months later.
“We mostly use text and email to communicate at our company, and our head of sales called me three times in a row,” he says. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ It was very exciting to get the prize.”
An eco-friendly solution for plastic waste
Unpaste’s mission is to reduce waste by eliminating toothpaste tubes, which are one of the most common single-use plastic items that end up in landfills every year. Unpaste tooth tabs are made entirely of natural ingredients, and they come in compostable packaging. It’s simple to use the tabs: just “Crunch, Brush, Rinse, Smile,” as the company says.
“The majority of [the ingredients] in toothpaste is used to get it into and out of the tube. It’s not for teeth cleaning,” Patrick explains. “We know that you can clean your teeth very, very well with far fewer ingredients than are in toothpaste and without having a plastic tube.”
A transatlantic product idea
Patrick worked in various consulting and IT businesses before founding Unpaste. He comes from a long line of butchers, and was raised in Hollister, California, where his family grew their own produce. He has always enjoyed launching new businesses, which led him to co-found Unpaste with his business partner Lin after she introduced him to tooth tabs.
When Lin lived in Berlin, she befriended her German car mechanic neighbor and his two brothers, one of whom is a dental engineer. The idea for Unpaste came from the siblings, who had created tooth tabs after they became concerned about what they believed were unnecessary ingredients in toothpaste. “They were convinced that toothpaste was causing issues. You’re brushing your teeth, but what’s all this extra stuff doing in your mouth?” Patrick says. “They wanted to simplify the tooth-cleaning process while also eliminating plastic waste.”
When Patrick and Lin inquired about plans to expand the business to the United States, they were given the go-ahead to do so instead. Unpaste is its own separate company, led by Patrick, with the German side serving as a co-manufacturer. The company’s tooth tabs are reviewed by Aktion Zahnfreundlich, a German organization responsible for reviewing oral hygiene products.
“We thought the product was terrific, and we were really aligned with the mission,” Patrick says of his collaboration with Lin, whom he met and became friends with in Berlin. “We’ve both been trying to reduce our environmental impact, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. We like that there are no toothpaste tubes or plastic, but we also like how Unpaste tabs feel in your mouth.”
Products for Tomorrow
As a Products for Tomorrow winner, Unpaste received a $20,000 grant, guidance and assistance with sustainability certifications, and product placement opportunities for their winning products across Amazon’s online site, including the Products for Tomorrow store.
The Unpaste team used their prize money to purchase more inventory to ensure they did not run out of stock, which was a relief for them given the unpredictability of shipping times caused by the pandemic. However, the benefits of winning the award has extended beyond just the prize money.
As part of their winnings, Unpaste also received a climate footprint analysis by ClimatePartner, a ClimatePartner certification, inclusion into Climate Pledge Friendly, based on a qualifying certification, and one year of high-quality carbon offset credits, which is particularly important for their eco-focused brand. All of this will help Unpaste as they hope to become certified climate neutral. As Patrick notes, “Being able to say we are a climate neutral (emissions-free) operation would be a very good thing.”
Patrick especially appreciates getting customer reviews now that they sell in Amazon’s store, as feedback was harder to come by when the company only sold wholesale to eco-retailers. “We get feedback from other retailers, but it’s nice to get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak,” he says. “You need to really pay attention to what customers are saying, and Amazon gives us that.”
Living the brand mission
Unpaste is a remote-first company that operates without its own warehouse or office. As CEO, Patrick tries to own as few possessions as possible, living most of the year out of a carry-on suitcase and a backpack. He also hopes to eventually reduce the amount of travel he has to do for the business. The company’s bookkeeper lives in a travel trailer in the Pacific Northwest and agreed to work with Unpaste because the company’s values of minimizing environmental impact aligned with hers.
For businesses who are looking for ways to incorporate sustainability into their brand ethos, Patrick encourages them to be part of a bigger movement. While sustainability is a big part of Unpaste’s mission, there’s still more to do. They plan to join a global initiative that encourages both businesses and individuals to support environmental solutions through donations and everyday actions. Also, because production takes place in Poland, they’re exploring how to move operations to the US in order to reduce reliance on ocean freight.
For those who find it difficult to break old habits, such as switching to tooth tabs, Patrick encourages that it’s possible. “There are many things we used to do in the world that we no longer do,” he says. “I didn’t know anything about toothpaste until a few years ago, and now I know more about its history. My mother used to be an antiques dealer; she is now retired, but her house is still full of stuff. I discovered a bottle of tooth powder on her shelf, which is probably over 100 years old. That’s all Unpaste is: tooth powder compressed into a tablet. So, we think, oh, this is ‘Products for Tomorrow,’ this is a new product. But, in some ways, this is a throwback to more than a century ago. We simply brought back something from the past that was working better.”
Shop the 2022 winners on the Products for Tomorrow storefront.