It is made from polypropylene plastic (Type 5) and nylon (Type 7), which are sourced from non-renewable fossil fuels.
Polypropylene plastic makes up most of the toothbrush handle, while nylon forms the bristles. Nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is released during the production of nylon polymers.
It seems that the responsible choice to keep our mouths clean is polluting our planet.
The question is: Are there any plastic-free toothbrushes?
First, let’s break it into two parts: the toothbrush handle and the bristles..
Most people are probably familiar with a few sustainable options to reduce plastic waste from the toothbrush handle, such as the electric toothbrush, recycled plastic brush, plastic brush with replaceable head, and bamboo brush.
Electric toothbrushes are built to last, meaning less plastic ends up in trash over time. Most electric toothbrushes allow us to replace the brush head, so it may be less wasteful than throwing away a full manual plastic toothbrush. However, according to a study that was conducted in collaboration with Eastman Dental Institute at University College London and published in the British Dental Journal, electric toothbrushes were the least environment-friendly compared to the three manual toothbrush types and had the greatest impact in 15 out of 16 environmental categories. Research shows that electric toothbrushes are harmful to the planet and to the people involved in the manufacturing process and distribution. The climate change potential of the electric toothbrush is in fact, 11 times greater than a bamboo toothbrush!
Bamboo is proclaimed to be one of the most renewable materials in the world because it’s easy to utilize and it grows incredibly fast. It’s also considered a “miracle plant” because of its versatile properties and how it can help rebuild eroded soil. Much to our surprise, the study suggests that bamboo toothbrushes are not always the answer. When farmers grow bamboo as a mono-crop to meet growing demands for bamboo products, this land degrades the ecosystem and stresses biodiversity.
Toothbrushes with removable heads, where the head pops out when the bristles wear down, and a new one snaps in, reduces the total amount of waste to less than 30 percent of a normal brush.
Fully recycled and recyclable toothbrushes are another option. Keeping plastic in the recycling chain and upcycling it into new products reduces its environmental impacts on Earth.
Replacing plastic toothbrush handles with sustainable options is quite easy. The greater challenge is the bristles which are made of nylon, a plastic. The alternatives to nylon are currently limited to three major options:
Amazingly, the only truly biodegradable bristle option is boar hair. This boar hair is harvested from animals so is a poor fit for vegetarians and vegans. Moreover, the pig hairs are hollow making them potentially a breeding ground for bacteria. Pig hair toothbrushes should be sterilized every few days with boiling water.
The Swedish company Foreo uses medical-grade silicone in its bristles which means that its toothbrush heads last for an entire year reducing the amount of waste. Further, silicone seems to be much better than other plastics for your health and the environment, making it a solid choice.
NYLON WITH CASTOR OIL
As Brush with Bamboo observes, their bristles which are 62% Castor Bean Oil and 38% nylon are the most biodegradable option other than pig hair. Brush with Bamboo is constantly pushing manufacturers to develop more sustainable options.
Nylon 4 is supposedly biodegradable and many companies will claim they use Nylon 4. However, there are numerous reports of greenwashing around these claims, and many toothbrushes which claim to use Nylon 4 bristles will have non-biodegradable Nylon 6 bristles.
Limited options for environmentally friendly toothbrushes make it difficult for us, as consumers, to solve plastic pollution. We all indeed have the duty to reduce waste and push our society into a circular economy.
Put this into consideration the next time you shop for a new toothbrush! Any option that reduces the total amount of plastic used and carbon footprint will be a step in a more sustainable direction. The least that we can do is to make sure the toothbrush in our hands does less harm to the environment, and not end up someday in waterways and oceans!