Did you know that over 30 million plastic toothbrushes end up in Aussie landfills every year? Eco conscious consumers have already started switching to eco-friendly alternatives such as a bamboo toothbrush. The key benefit is that a toothbrush made from bamboo can be disposed of in your compost bin and recycled within a couple of years.
While it is possible to recycle plastic toothbrushes through recycling programs like Terracycle, it is time-consuming and somewhat impractical. In the long run, it’s more sustainable to buy biodegradable toothbrushes made from already recycled material, or bamboo, for minimal environmental impact since plastic waste takes a great environmental toll.
Studies show that it takes plastic toothbrushes over 500 years to decompose once discarded. During this timespan, plastic can leach harmful toxins and chemicals into nearby groundwater, harming crops and those who drink it.
Bamboo brushes on the other hand are biodegradable. This means bacteria and microorganisms can decompose the material easily, which results in less waste accumulation in landfills and oceans. In addition, bamboo toothbrushes have antibacterial properties, eliminating unwanted odours and acting as a barrier to intrusive and harmful bacteria.
Bamboo toothbrushes vs plastic toothbrushes
According to National Geographic, teeth-cleaning tools have been popular since Ancient Egyptian times. Centuries later, Chinese emperors cultivated a tool composed of bone and adorned with boar bristles, an apparatus that resembles the modern-day toothbrush.
Reference: National Geographic
In the early 20th century, increased demand for toothbrushes facilitated the plastic toothbrush's mass production, and its counterpart, the nylon bristle.
The plight of the plastic toothbrush
Today’s plastic toothbrushes are composed of polypropylene plastic, which is derived from non-renewable fossil fuels. Essentially, they’re indestructible and definitely not compostable.
According to a report conducted by the Centre for International Environmental Law, the production of polypropylene plastic emits 184.3 to 213 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year. Additionally, plastic’s immortality forces landfills to eliminate the waste through incineration, which produces an additional 5.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.
Ultimately, the production and disposal of plastic toothbrushes pose a significant environmental threat — one you can mitigate through a small, environmentally conscious decision: investing in a plastic free..
The bamboo plant is a renewable eco-crop; it’s exceptionally fast-growing, requires little maintenance, and doesn’t need pesticides or herbicides to survive, making for relatively sustainable production means.
Additionally, bamboo is not only adaptable, but expansive, growing in areas like Africa, Asia, Latin America, and southern regions of the United States.
The toothbrush itself is made entirely from bamboo, except for its nylon bristles. Are nylon bristles biodegradable? No. But the handle made from bamboo is. So go ahead, throw the bamboo base in your compost bin and relish in the small act of sustainability.
The only downside to a bamboo toothbrush is its nylon bristles. An alternative to nylon bristles is to return to the early Chinese dynasty's days option — boar hair. While boar hair is compostable, it’s not cruelty-free. Therefore, it may not be the best choice for those who are environmentally conscious.
As stated, the most significant advantage to bamboo is that it’s easy to recycle. In three quick steps, you’ll have your toothbrush de-bristled and upcycled in no time.
Step 1: Remove bristles
In order to learn how to recycle a bamboo toothbrush, you must first remove the undesirable nylon bristles, and acquire the correct tools: Any plier or gripping tool will work. When working to remove the bristles, utilize a circular motion for optimal results. Then dispose of the plastic bristles with the rest of your non-recyclables or you can save them until a better solution is invented.
If you’re unsure if your bristles are indeed plastic, take a flame to the bristles. If the bristles emit a dark black smoke when burned, it’s plastic.
Another method to remove the bristles of your toothbrush is by snapping off the head completely. The removal can be done by hand — if you’re up for the challenge or using a saw. The disadvantage of this method is that the bamboo piece that holds the bristles can no longer be recycled.
Step 2: Dispose of bamboo Handle
The next step is disposing of the bamboo handle. If you have an at-home compost system, it’s recommended to discard the handle into a bio-waste bin; however, since bamboo is compostable in every environment, it would also be sustainable to bury the handle in soil or discard the bamboo base into the trash if you have no other option.
Side note, these steps work for a kids toothbrush as well.
Because bamboo decomposition depends on such factors as soil composition and temperature, it can take anywhere from four months to three years to completely decompose. Therefore, it’s recommended to chop up or shred the bamboo handle into smaller pieces to optimize and accelerate the decomposition process.
Adding bamboo to your compost bin is hugely beneficial, especially if you plan to use it as a fertilizer in your garden. The plant is composed of large levels of silica, which facilitates photosynthesis and chlorophyll composition in plants. Silica also has an alkalizing effect, improving plant growth.
Step 3: Up-cycle or reuse
Don’t have a green thumb? No worries! A toothbrush made from bamboo can also be up-cycled or reused to avoid a stint in the landfill. Get creative and repurpose the bamboo toothbrush as a shoe-cleaner, kitchen-scrubber, or garden-marker. The bamboo base can also be used for kid-friendly crafts.
However, before repurposing the toothbrush, it’s essential to thoroughly sanitize the toothbrush, especially if the bristles still remain, in order to avoid bacterial growth in your home. Just grab some dish soap and hot water, and start scrubbing.
Environmental climate change can be daunting to think about, it’s overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable. Yet, making a few environmentally conscious changes to your daily routine can make an immense impact.
Investing in a bamboo helps mitigate annual greenhouse gas emissions and supports bamboo cultivation. Bamboo, a carbon sequestration crop, absorbs 100 to 400 tonnes of carbon per hectare. Some times the small steps take by many is a large step towards tackling climate change.