The only truly zero waste toothbrush option is made from boar's hair and that doesn’t sound realistic for most of us. We’ll discuss toothbrush alternatives to help you kick that plastic toothbrush to the curb.
*Whispers* Do you have time to talk about your plastic toothbrush today? 👀
It’s no secret that toothbrushes are bad for the planet — just look at one. Plastic box, plastic handle, plastic bristles. And think how often we throw them away! The American Dental Association recommends replacing it every three to four months. Following those rules equals roughly 4 toothbrushes a year — for every person.
Photo by Henrik Lagercrantz on Unsplash
But when was the last time you went on vacation and…. forgot your toothbrush!
So you run out and get a new one. And then you probably throw that away after your trip because you have one at home, right? Or, you take it home and build a stockpile of slightly used toothbrushes in a drawer somewhere.
Humans have always had some sort of desire to keep their teeth clean — archaeologists found remains of ‘tooth sticks’ in Egyptian tombs and a form of a toothbrush can be found as early as 3,000 B.C.
Weirdly enough, the Civil War and World War II played major roles in dental hygiene becoming a household trend. As demand soared for toothbrushes, plastic stepped up to meet that demand.
Why Plastic Toothbrushes Are Bad
Almost all of the problems we have with plastic start in the 1930’s as that’s when plastic first began to take off.
But hindsight is always 20/20 as they say and we now know that while it has its benefits, the consequences outweigh them. Plastic does not degrade, meaning every toothbrush made of plastic beginning in the 1930’s still exists somewhere.
Toothbrushes were originally made with boar bristles (yes, like the pig); in the late 1930’s scientists invented nylon and that became the permanent, more affordable option for bristles. After that, toothbrushes have remained largely unchanged up to the present day.
Photo by Ed van duijn on Unsplash
The Search For A Zero Waste Toothbrush
It is a little surprising that despite access to the technology we have, there is no such thing as a truly zero waste toothbrush.
There are many great companies making great strides to be more gentle on the planet, but unless we go back to using boar bristles (which you can) we haven’t figured out a way to make that happen yet.
If you’ve been here before, you know we’re big fans of imperfect action; taking steps towards being zero waste slowly and imperfectly is better than doing nothing at all. And we’re optimistic that one day soon there will be a truly zero waste option. In the meantime, we do our best and what we can.
As Close To A Zero Waste Toothbrush As You Can Get
There are a few different option for a plastic alternative toothbrush:
- A brush made from recycled materials
- Reusable handle with a replaceable head to create less waste
- Recycled yogurt cups
Bamboo is considered an eco-friendly toothbrush alternative because bamboo is a super fast growing grass that uses less water than trees and doesn’t need chemical fertilizers or pesticides to grow. This also means it can be composted at the end of its life.
Are Electric Toothbrushes Better For The Planet
Photo by Goby on Unsplash
Well wouldn’t an electric toothbrush be better for the planet because it’s also only replacing the bristles each time? Your head’s in the right place buuuuut that’s not the case.
Electric toothbrushes are harmful to the planet and to the individuals who manufacture and distribute them. They also performed the worst (compared to bamboo brushes, replaceable head brushes, and the standard plastic brush) in 15 out of 16 environmental categories.
Additionally, electric toothbrushes have components such as batteries and other electronic components that most people aren’t disposing of properly. Those components sit in a landfill and leak toxic materials.
Bamboo Zero Waste Toothbrush Brands
Let’s get to the good stuff, so what should you buy? First of all, we have to say that bamboo isn’t perfect, it comes with its own set of issues. It needs to be grown and harvested to match demand, and it needs to ship from China. But right now it’s what we have as an alternative to plastic.
Image by Brush With Bamboo
As far as bamboo toothbrushes go, Brush With Bamboo is our fav. They are one of the first companies to make an entirely plant based toothbrush. Handle, bristles, and box. The bristles are made completely from castor oil and are USDA certified as biobased, although they are not certified compostable. All products are Verified BPA-Free, Vegan, Non-GMO, Gluten-Free and Non-toxic.
Based in California, Mable uses ethically made and sourced Bamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Mable’s goal is to use as much compostable and reusable materials when possible to keep as much plastic out of our landfills as possible! The bristles are made from the nylon and not compostable, but the rest of the handle is, including the fun base colors added in a plant-based biodegradable paint.
This Swedish brand was founded and designed by a dentist! These toothbrushes are ‘panda-friendly’ in the sense that they only use bamboo higher than 5 meters to protect the leaves that Pandas can reach. While the bristles are made from Nylon, the handle is compostable in commercial or backyard composting. After use, cut the head off the toothbrush or remove the staple from the head and dispose of the nylon bristles.
And since you now know and understand the ingredients, you know that these bars are just as gentle and effective on your hair as any other shampoo in addition to being a better packaging option!
Non-Bamboo Zero Waste Toothbrush Options
If a bamboo toothbrush isn’t the right fit for you there are still other alternatives that use less plastic and companies you can support that are working towards a plastic free future.
Image by Radius
Radius is working towards becoming 100% plant-based and 100% biodegradable. At this moment, all their products are recyclable, they use bioplastics (made from organic materials), renewable and upcycled materials, plastic-free boxes, and replaceable heads. Their toothbrush heads also contain 300% more bristles than the leading toothbrush so you can replace them less!
The sleek handle is made from recycled aluminium and designed to last a lifetime. The heads are removable, made from PLA — a plastic substitute made from plant starch. It is compostable in an industrial composting setting but Goodwell also has a takeback program that recycles the toothbrush heads (and all oral care products) through Terracycle. Bristles are nylon.
We did talk about how electric toothbrushes aren’t great, however if you can’t kick the habit, Goodwill has an electric toothbrush that is cord and battery free, relying on twist power to run it. The core is stainless steel that can be recycled and they offer a takeback program.
It’s very likely you’ve run into these at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but these fun colored brushes are made with 100% recycled #5 plastic from yogurt cups; bristles are nylon. Preserve also has a mail-back program where returned products will be upcycled into new ones! The only downside is these brushes come in a plastic wrapping.
As much as we want there to be an easy answer on what to swap out your plastic toothbrush with, ultimately the decision is yours. What works best for you, your family, your budget, and your environmental concerns and capacity.
We know there is no perfect zero waste toothbrush. And as society becomes more aware of the plastic problem, we have to keep innovating. But for now, make the decision to replace your plastic toothbrush with something more eco-friendly and keep those teeth and gums healthy!