For centuries, the basic toothbrush was made from natural materials, like bone handles and boar hair bristles. It wasn’t until the early 20th century, when manufacturers started using nylon and other plastics in the design, that the modern day toothbrush as we know it was born.
Since then, plastic toothbrushes have become a household staple with the average person using 300 in their lifetime! It is estimated that we use 3.6 billion toothbrushes world wide every year. That’s a LOT of plastic.
More and more of us are looking at how much plastic we consume and how we can reduce it. With dentists recommending changing our toothbrushes every 4 months, or whenever the bristles start curving, people are looking for their next purchase to be a more sustainable alternative, such as bamboo. Is this really a more sustainable option though?
Pros and Cons of Bamboo Toothbrushes
Moso bamboo, which grows a metre a day without the need for fertiliser, is highly sustainable, safe and eco-friendly. This species of bamboo is dubbed “panda-friendly” because pandas do not eat it or inhabit the area where it grows.
Some bamboo toothbrushes use sturdier nylon bristles which helps them last longer, so you need fewer replacements.
Heat treated bamboo has a carbonised surface, giving it a quality finish and good service life. The carbonisation finishing process provides water resistance and prevents the growth of microbes (bacteria and moulds) during normal use.
The bamboo handle can be re-used for plant markers or craft uses
Most of the bamboo brushes on the market still have nylon bristles, so at least that part of the brush has to be thrown away.
The only fully biodegradable toothbrushes use natural bristles made from pig or badger hair which dentists claim are too hard and abrasive on our delicate gums.
Natural bristles retain moisture and can be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Most still end up in regular waste.
As yet, there is no clear data to prove that bamboo is environmentally better than plastic, but we do know that the sustainability of a product can vary greatly depending on how we dispose of it.
The waste hierarchy sets out the options from most to least preferable. The carbon footprint of a 100% compostable bamboo toothbrush with natural bristles will be considerably greater if you throw it in the bin instead of composting it. In fact, you would be better off using a plastic toothbrush and reusing or recycling it via a Terracycle scheme (find your nearest collection point here).
For optimum gum health, dentists recommend nylon bristles over natural. If you follow this advice, make sure you re-use your bamboo toothbrush for maximum sustainability. Need ideas? You can use an old toothbrush to dust a keyboard, scrub grout, remove clothes stains, clean shoes and much more! Alternatively, you can save the bamboo handles up and recycle them in the wood skip at a Recycling Centre the next time you’re passing. Find your nearest one here.
If you prefer to use a plastic toothbrush, don’t fret. Plastic has many qualities, such as durability and low absorbency, which makes it ideal for products that are used over and over, such as toothbrushes. Just make sure to recycle it or, even better, reuse it at the end of its life.