“Toothbrushes get completely lost in the recycling process...”
Where does your toothbrush go when it gets old? The chances are it ends up in the landfill, in the US alone, that’s where an estimated 1 billion go to every year. And once in landfill, the toothbrush, made of polypropylene plastic and nylon will not break down, and worse can reach rivers or even the sea. Two decades ago, the first sustainable toothbrush was designed by inventor Eric Hudson under his brand Preserve.
Yet the conventional plastic toothbrush is still king. As a result, it has inspired innovative eco alternatives including bamboo-made brushes, one with a handle made from recycled yoghurt pots and bristles made from pig hair. We learn more about some of the alternatives.
Hudson, the founder of Preserve ( @Preserve ) has seen progress in a market that is starting to have increased awareness. He first started his journey in 1996 after realising that not enough was being done to put recycled products into better use. Since the creation of their novel toothbrush, the company have extended their product range to sustainable and functional items such as razors and reusable kitchen-ware. According to a feature in The Guardian, the Preserve toothbrush has now become the most popular in the US toothbrush in the country’s $85.5bn (£67bn) natural grocery market and is on sale in 18 different countries.
After months of consultation with dentists, scientists and engineers, the business has received many awards along the way and are now B corp certified. Unique in its design, Preserve’s manufacturing process comes from discarded plastics and used yoghurt pots while the bristles are produced from new nylon.
So why haven’t eco toothbrushes made it to supermarket shelves across the world? After an interview with The Guardian, Hudson said: “A lot of big brands say that they don’t see the ‘purchase intent’ among customers for recyclable toothbrushes. But for us, that’s not the point: the point is to lighten the footprint of the product from the start.”
This is not the only initiative that the Massachusetts based firm have focused on. The company have also created another unique way to prolong the life of recycled materials with their Gimme 5 campaign. Now there are 400 recycling bins dotted around the US so consumers are able to dispose any polypropylene plastics which can then be turned into Preserve’s toothbrush handles. After introducing the campaign in 2008, more than 500,000 kg of plastic has been prevented from going to landfill. The initiative has also been sponsored by baby-food manufacturer Plum Organics and Danone-owned yoghurt brand Stoneyfield Farm. “Toothbrushes get completely lost in the recycling process... often they’re destined [for] waste-to-energy or shipped overseas, so the Gimme 5 programme definitely has a lighter impact on the earth,” says Hudson.
Other competitors to have emerged in the market is Australian firm – The Environmental Toothbrush (pictured left). Invented by a Brisbane dentist, the company recognised the potential in a culture of waste. Plastic toothbrushes amount to approximately 1000 tonnes of landfill each year in the country. The solution? – bamboo made brushes. Bamboo is a natural cellulose fibre with biodegradable handles and environmentally friendly. The fast growing plant has self-renewing properties which will avoid further deforestation. What’s more is that the packaging is bio-degradable, retailing at a price of £2.85 in the UK.
Another option for consumers is the bio-brush designed for users who wish to avoid plastic in all its forms – recyclable and non-recyclable. In 2006, German based Life without Plastic ( @LifeWoutPlastic ) has designed a brush with bristles made from pig hair with a handle sculpted from sustainably harvested beech wood. It is the only plastic free toothbrush on the market.
There's also the VirtueBrush ( @ ) an environmentally friendly toothbrush with a 100% Bamboo Handle and soft bristles that are enhanced with Activated Bamboo Charcoal. The smooth Bamboo Handle is Naturally Antibacterial while the Charcoal Infused Bristles are naturally effective at fighting plaque and can help whiten teeth by absorbing tannins – compounds found in coffee, tea and wine.
If you aren’t ready to convert to these eco options just yet then oral hygiene brand Oral-B have also devised a few options to extend the lifestyle of your three month old toothbrush that you might not have considered before. These include:
- Cleaning jewellery
- Cleaning bathroom tiles and toilets
- Cleaning shoes
- Combing eyebrows
- Children’s painting
- Cleaning computer keyboards
- One of the more questionable recommendations is to touch up hair dye…
Editor's Comment: According to the 60 Second Marketer website, around 3.5 billion toothbrushes are sold worldwide each year, and dental benefits administrator Advantica claims that Americans alone spend around $2 billion annually on mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes and floss. So the market is huge, and with better solutions, marketed properly, offers huge commercial opportunities as well as being better for the planet.
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