Is elephant toothpaste biodegradable? (5 reasons why it is a common experiment for school kids)

This blog post shall answer the question, “is elephant toothpaste biodegradable?”.

It shall also cover topics such as:

  • What is elephant toothpaste?
  • The chemical explanation for elephant toothpaste.
  • What is biodegradation?
  • Importance of biodegradation to the environment.
  • Is elephant toothpaste compostable?
  • Is elephant toothpaste toxic?

Is elephant toothpaste biodegradable?

Yes, elephant toothpaste is biodegradable, depending on the media used to make it.

Elephant toothpaste is made from soaps and detergents.

Most soaps are made from organic materials and as such, elephant toothpaste made from soaps is biodegradable.

Detergents are made mostly from petroleum chemicals, which makes it very difficult for elephant toothpaste made from detergent to biodegrade.

What is elephant toothpaste?

Elephant toothpaste is a foamy substance produced when soap or detergent is mixed with hydrogen peroxide and a catalyst.

Is elephant toothpaste a real toothpaste?

No, elephant toothpaste is not the same as the pastes used in brushing teeth.

It is a soapy form that when rises, takes the same appearance as a toothpaste, hence the name elephant toothpaste.

How is elephant toothpaste formed?

Elephant toothpaste is formed by mixing:

  • Soap or detergent foam.
  • A catalyst.
  • Hydrogen peroxide.

What is a catalyst?

A catalyst is any substance used to increase the speed of a chemical reaction without changing the products formed.

A catalyst should not take part in a reaction, in that, it should not change its form.

What are the types of catalysts used in forming elephant toothpaste?

They include:

  • Potassium iodide.
  • Sodium iodide
  • Manganese oxide.
  • Catalase enzyme.

When any of these catalysts are used, the same product will be formed.

How does the reaction to form elephant toothpaste occur?

The reaction to form elephant toothpaste occurs in 3 distinct steps:

  • The catalyst oxidizes hydrogen peroxide to water and oxygen.

 For instance, potassium iodide reacts with hydrogen peroxide to form water, oxygen, and iodine.

  • Oxygen formed from the reaction then fills the soap or detergent bubbles from the foam.
  • The oxygen-filled bubbles then rise, forming the elephant toothpaste.

What type of reaction forms elephant toothpaste?

The reaction that forms elephant toothpaste is exothermic.

What is an exothermic reaction?

An exothermic reaction is a type of reaction that produces heat when it occurs.

The amount of heat produced depends on the concentration of reagents used and the rate of reaction depending on the catalyst used.

The reaction that absorbs energy when it occurs is called an endothermic reaction.

For a reaction to be exothermic or endothermic, it depends on the reagents used.

How is the color of the elephant toothpaste enhanced?

The color of elephant toothpaste is enhanced by adding different food colors to the reagents. 

How is elephant toothpaste disposed of?

Elephant toothpaste can be disposed of by washing it with running water in a sink.

Is it safe to touch elephant toothpaste?

Yes, it is safe to touch elephant toothpaste.

It is advisable to touch it three minutes after the reaction since it’s an exothermic reaction, and as such, it produces heat.

Is the reaction to form elephant toothpaste safe for kids?

The reaction for making elephant toothpaste is safe for kids depending on the concentration of reagents.

Hydrogen peroxide is acidic. It can cause burns on a person’s skin.

When kids are making elephant toothpaste, they should use 30% hydrogen peroxide.

A 3% hydrogen peroxide is less acidic and hence safe for kids to use.

When adults are making elephant toothpaste, they can use a more concentrated hydrogen peroxide.

A more concentrated hydrogen peroxide increases the intensity of the explosion and also produces more oxygen and hence bigger elephant toothpaste.

But also for the adults, when using highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide, it is advisable to use safety gloves.

Is elephant toothpaste flammable?

Yes, according to a study elephant toothpaste is flammable.

This is because the reaction to form elephant toothpaste produces oxygen gas which can easily cause a fire.

The flammability of elephant toothpaste depends on the amount of oxygen produced which in turn depends on the amount of hydrogen peroxide and catalyst used.

What is the purpose of elephant toothpaste reaction in schools?

The purpose of elephant toothpaste reaction in schools depends on the class and age of students.

For young school kids, the purpose is just to have fun. It is mostly done as part of games.

For upper-class students, the purpose of the reaction is to teach students the basics of chemical reactions.

From the reaction to make elephant toothpaste, students get to learn:

  • Exothermic reactions.
  • Oxidation of hydrogen peroxide.
  • Use of catalysts in chemical reactions.
  • Rates of reactions depend on the concentration of reagents and the presence or absence of a catalyst. 

What are the uses for elephant toothpaste? 

It is used for the following purposes:

  • In senior schools to demonstrate exothermic reactions.
  • In 2019, it was used as Miss Virginia Pageant and for gender reveals.
  • Used by kids in holiday or school games.

What is biodegradation?

This is the natural breakdown of organic substances by light, water, temperature, bacteria, and fungi.

What is the importance of biodegradation?

The importance of biodegradation includes:

  • Breaking down waste products into smaller particles that do not pollute the environment.
  • Making organic matter that makes part of the soil, hence enriching the soil with nutrients required by plants.
  • Balancing the ecosystem by degrading dead matter hence recycling the energy in the food chain.
  • Prevention accumulation of matter in water bodies, which would otherwise cause water overflow and floods.

What are the types of elephant toothpaste biodegradation?

Types of elephant toothpaste biodegradation include:

Aerobic biodegradation.

This involves breaking down elephant toothpaste in the presence of oxygen.

Anaerobic biodegradation.

This involves breaking down elephant toothpaste in the absence of oxygen.

What are the agents of biodegradation?

The agents of biodegradation include:

  • Water.
  • Temperature.
  • Light.
  • Wind.
  • Bacteria.
  • Fungi.

Water.

Water carries organic materials, breaking them down into small particles which are harmless to the environment.

Temperature.

Temperature causes biodegradation in the following ways:

  • It causes the expansion and contraction of organic matter, this results in stress hence the mechanical breakdown of the waste matter. 
  • Temperature affects the activity of bacteria and fungi. When temperatures are optimum, they increase the speed at which they break down organic matter.

Light.

Different light wavelengths affect the mechanical breakdown of waste matter.

Wind.

When the wind carries waste matter, it causes the mechanical breakdown of that matter into smaller particles that are less harmful to the environment.

Bacteria.

Bacteria are the most active agents of biodegradation.

At optimum temperature, bacteria increase the rate of biodegradation.

At low temperatures, bacteria become inactive and this results in a low biodegradation rate.

High temperatures lead to the death of bacteria which will, therefore, result in a low biodegradation rate.

Fungi.

This forms part of a very important agent of degradation. 

The most active fungal agents are molds, mushrooms, mildew, and yeast.

They break down organic matter into small particles which are less toxic to the environment.

How does elephant toothpaste biodegradation occur?

Elephant toothpaste biodegradation mostly entails the breakdown of the constituent materials making it.

The main materials are soaps and hydrogen peroxide.

Soaps contain organic matter which is broken down into small nontoxic particles.

Hydrogen peroxide is broken down by yeast or any other catalyst used in water and hydrogen gas which are nontoxic to the environment.

Is elephant toothpaste eco-friendly? 

Yes, the materials making elephant toothpaste are easily biodegradable.

They are broken down into small particles which are less harmful to the environment.

Conclusion:

This blog has answered the question, ” is the elephant toothpaste biodegradable?”.

In addition, other areas have also been covered.

Such areas include the definition of elephant toothpaste, the definition, and agents of biodegradation, the type of reactions that form elephant toothpaste, uses of elephant toothpaste, constituents of elephant toothpaste, and eco-friendliness of elephant toothpaste.

Frequently Asked Questions( FAQs): Is elephant toothpaste biodegradable?

Is elephant toothpaste biodegradable?

Yes, elephant toothpaste is biodegradable because its constituent materials can easily be broken down into small non-toxic particles.

How does elephant toothpaste get cleaned up?

Elephant toothpaste is cleaned using a water-soaked sponge or clothing.

The wastes from its formation can be discarded in a drain.

What is the devil’s toothpaste?

The devil’s toothpaste is the same as elephant toothpaste only that in making devils toothpaste, more reactive reagents are used, and hence, the reaction becomes more explosive.

Leave your comment or question in the comment section below.

Citations:

Matthew Hart. ( December 20, 2019). World’s Biggest Elephant Toothpaste Erupts in Foam Volcano. A Journal on elephant toothpaste.

Retrieved from:

Darren, Glen; Gilbert, George; Juergens, Frederick; Page, Philip; Ramette, Richard; Schreiner, Rodney; Scott, Earle; Testen, May; Williams, Lloyd (1983). “Chemical Demonstrations”. A Handbook for Teachers of Chemistry. 1: 180–185. doi:10.1021/ed062pA31.2.

Hernando, Franco; Laperuta, Santiago; Kuijl, Jeanine Van; Laurin, Nahuel; Sacks, Federico; Ciolino, Andrés (2017). “Elephant Toothpaste”. Journal of Chemical Education. 94 (7): 907–910. doi:10.1021/acs.scheme.7b00040

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