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Plastic Free July 2nd: Toothbrush

After the bread challenge proved to be a bit trickier than I was expecting, I’m going for an easy plastic free swap on July 2nd: the plastic toothbrush.

In the UK, research suggests that almost half of us own an electric toothbrush. These devices normally contain non-replaceable batteries, rubber, and plastic. Simple plastic toothbrushes aren’t much better. Americans throw away 22.5 million kilograms of them every year.

I’m an electric toothbrush user on dentist’s orders, but reluctantly so. Eco-friendly disposable brush heads are impossible to find. I’m supposed to replace my Sonicare toothbrush head four times a year, so over the course of the rest of my life, I’d be adding a few dozen more pieces of plastic to the mountain – assuming I have teeth for that long.

It wouldn’t be plastic free July without a bamboo toothbrush, and if you aren’t already using one, today’s a pretty good day to start. Unlike many eco-friendly, plastic free swaps, going from a plastic disposable toothbrush to a bamboo one is hardly more expensive, and no less convenient.

Why Bamboo for a Toothbrush? 

Bamboo is the world’s favourite eco-friendly material, primarily because it’s easy to grow. Some varieties grow over a metre a day, and they require no chemicals to achieve that phenomenal rate.

When I set up Smug Store, I choose to initially stock the Environmental Toothbrush. That’s because the handle is made from moso, a variety of bamboo that (a) grows quickly, and (b) is of no interest at all to pandas. So by buying these toothbrushes, we can be (reasonably) sure that we aren’t replacing the plastic problem with a conservation problem.

The production of bamboo is a much bigger topic, but I liked the fact that the Environmental Toothbrush was produced with an eye on the bigger picture.

Toothbrush Bristles

Unfortunately, all toothbrush bristles that I’ve come across are plastic, and not recyclable. Some claim to be made from degradable Nylon-4, but have been tested and found not to be Nylon-4, but a different, non-biodegradable variant.

This shines a light on the production process behind some of these bamboo toothbrushes, and proves that some elements of manufacture are difficult to observe or control. So unless you have some kind of certification, it’s best to assume all bristles are plastic and not destined for the recycling bin.

Right now, the only compostable option is animal hair — a waste product from the Chinese meat industry. I’m not going anywhere near that material, for obvious reasons.

So for now, the best thing to do when your bamboo toothbrush is worn is to break the head off the toothbrush if you want to separate the biodegradable part from the plastic. Then you can compost the handle, chuck it in the bin, or burn it safely. (I know some people pull out the bristles, rather than chopping the end off, but I’d be a bit uncomfortable about increasing the risk of plastic getting into the water supply so I personally won’t be doing this.)

My Second Plastic Free Swap: Easy Peasy

If you are going to swap just one thing this July, make it your toothbrush.

Until Philips (or a third party) develop a degradable Sonicare brush head, I can’t really justify my continued use of it. I’ll keep it for now, since I’m sure they will eventually catch up.

Final note: the Environmental Toothbrush is available in adults and children’s sizes. The adult’s one quite firm, despite being labelled medium softness, and has a short handle. The Philips Sonicare is a fairly harsh brush, so I’m OK with this wrap. But if you prefer a softer brush, I can order the softer one. Let me know.

I’ll be tackling more dental and personal care plastic waste later in #plasticfreejuly.

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