One of our favourite things to do in the bathroom is clean our teeth. Whether that is because we enjoy it or because we are terrified of the cost and pain involved in a dentist visit I can’t tell. I think my love of teeth cleaning satisfies both criteria. It makes sense then that one of the first things we may look to when going plastic-free in the bathroom is our pot of toothbrushes. From my research, there has been an advance in the last 10 years to allow us to make some progress in reducing plastic in our toothbrush pot.
The set of choices available when looking to replace your current plastic toothbrush range from a stick, an option for none vegan pig or boar and even badger type options, ending with a wholly still plastic option that tries to recycle itself out of trouble. It’s sometimes the handle that has to be rejected and sometimes the handle. This is quite complex. I have tried to put them in some sort of order on a plastic scale.
A Stick Toothbrush
It is possible to return to the earliest form of toothbrush that has ever existed. You can buy a stick to clean your teeth. From rummaging around in the comments section of websites and some forums I have discovered that not only are they available to purchase but they get bought and for some cultures, they never replaced it with a plastic toothbrush. So let’s examine the stick option especially as it is, at the moment, the only truly plastic-free option that is out there for vegans.
So a toothbrush stick from what I can tell comes listed with varying names Miswak, Siwak, Peelu, Arak and Chewing Stick. The miswak is from a tree that grows in the Middle East and Africa called Salvadora persica which I think in Arabic is Arak but I have seen the same tree referenced as Pilu and Peelu as well. It seems the use of this tree as a tooth cleaning stick was very widespread and from what I can tell may have been a great trade item due to its size and genuinely useful properties.
You can certainly buy a miswak I’ve put a link to one pack at the end of this section and I’ll try and review a batch soon. They may well be the best things ever for travelling light and would prove very useful for the great unwashed at festivals. Worth a try.
Let’s have a big grin to the only contender in the plastic-free and vegan-friendly category. Ha! Of course, it’s not that simple because some sticks come wrapped in plastic – so they fall off that lofty podium pretty quick. I said this wasn’t going to be simple.
Fancy Stick Toothbrush
There are varieties in the stick as far as I can tell and this is going to need some more investigating. There appears to be some that have interchangeable headpieces with bristles. I think to get to the botom of how plain or complicated a stick can be this is going to take some purchasing and testing. Again – there may be degrees of packaging some products do hint that they are hygienically sealed in something recyclable. Sounds like the rustle of plastic to me. Take a look at some of the fancier sticks.
Pig Hair or Boar Hair Bristle Toothbrush
There are wooden brushes made in Germany that use boar hair. The wood used for the handles are from beech wood local to Germany however the hair for the bristles comes from pigs in China. If you can cope with the concept of boar hair then these are a real plastic alternative. However, if you are going to gift these to a none vegan friend then beware even people who will chow down a bacon sandwich can get a bit uppity about this choice. I am preparing some research on boar bristle toothbrush and I will also try and work out why Chinese pigs are offering up the best bristles.
Cellulose Plant-Based Bristle Toothbrush
I am not very sure whether this wants to go above or below Nylon 4. There are a range of products out there that claim to have partial or 100% plant-based Nylons in play but if you dig deeper there are doubts on those. For me, it’s not even clear if they are biodegradable and if so in what context. Can you stick them in the ground in your garden and know that they will go away? Clearer labelling and certification does need to happen and rapidly for this type of bristle to succeed properly. You will also find some bristles stating that Nylon 4 is plant-based nylon and try to nab any searches you make for plant-based bristles. – this is just incorrect. I don’t think I’m going to share one of these because whenever I think I have found an example a bit of digging deeper reveals it’s true colours. However, I will leave in this order for now as the idea of a plant-based if biodegradable made bristle is appealing. Even if we can’t be sure if it exists.
Bamboo with Nylon 4 Bristle
Nylon 4, as far as I can tell from the research I have done, was released as superior to Nylon 6. It’s a Bisphenol-A (BPA) free nylon. BPA free was touted as a good thing as BPA is bad. This was satisfactory for a while and then the story changed now it seems that it also is harmful in contact with food or us. Nylon 4 was also touted as biodegradable but in reality that will only happen in an industrial composting situation. In that situation, some studies have reported that this nylon can breakdown in 4 to 6 months but they won’t compost in a home situation and sitting in landfill they will no doubt sit there as long as any other form of plastic.
I wrote about greenwashing here and some of that may apply here. I think Nylon 4 was sold to manufacturers in a way that allowed them to believe the hype. I believe they thought they had a biodegradable product that was fabulous for us. So this misleading product may not be the intent of the bamboo toothbrush manufacturers and may not have been a full-blown intent to deceive the public.
So yes there is plastic on this type of toothbrush but a small amount on a bamboo handle. It can be stripped off at end of life. This is not perfect but it is massively better than a whole plastic toothbrush. Besides, these brushes do try hard so they often come with no plastic packaging too. You can get charcoal-infused varieties and without.
Bamboo with Nylon 6 Bristle
Nylon 6 is what Nylon 4 above was trying to replace. It does not claim to be biodegradable. Furthermore, there appears to have been massive batches of Nylon 6 shipped out as Nylon 4 which just keeps the confusion going. You will find several makers of bamboo retracting the type of Nylon they are using and they appear to be genuine in their confusion and regret. In real terms, it makes little difference between the nylons as your bristles are unlikely to meet the type of active sludge it takes to break down Nylon 4 (If it is Nylon 4!)
Recycled Content Toothbrush
Some toothbrushes are being made where the plastic handles are made from recycled plastic. The plastic is a specific set #5 polypropylene plastic which is things like yoghurt pots. The company that makes toothbrushes from recycled contact is Preserve.eco and they service the USA. Collection of empty pots is done through a partnership with Whole Food Markets creating convenient recycling points. Of course this for now is a reasonable option for how to get rid of your old or existing plastic toothbrush even though it ranks last in terms of desirable plastic-free options.
The collection of plastic for recycling is still only available in the USA. Having said that the company does work with International distributors so if you are not in the USA then an email to email@example.com should be able to tell you the places where you can get your hands on them. Perhaps, until some kinks are sorted in the plastic-free range above then at this time this option may be the best you can do.
Badger Hair Bristle Toothbrush
I thought when I started on this part of the project that this would slot in under or above boar bristle – but I can’t because the bristles are on a plastic handle – apparently these brushes are very soft if you need a soft gentle brush for your teeth. I will not be investigating these much more as attempts I’ve made on trying to find out how the badger gave up its hair tended to got a bit near trolling and became fairly disrespectful – so I’m not going there and I will not be permitting any such comments here. Thank you.
If you want to investigate or buy a badger hair toothbrush go for it but me they drop off the shopping list because of the plastic handles. There was a series of articles that whipped around the broadsheet newspapers in July 2018 that mentioned badger bristles as an environmental option for a plastic-free toothbrush however I am unable to find any on a none plastic handle at the moment.
Plastic toothbrushes sent for recycling
Above we discussed the Preserve.eco toothbrush made from yoghurt pots and other items made of #5 polypropylene plastic this is the other side of recycling. I wrote an article on the scheme at Plastic Toothbrush – now you can recycle it.
To summarise that if you can get your toothbrush, packaging and toothpaste tubes to a collection point or you can create a collection point then due to a collaboration with Colgate and Terrcycle you can recycle your plastic toothbrush. They can get made into a whole range of items and even raise funds for your local school.
Conclusion and Call to Action.
So as you can see at the moment there are only 2 options of teeth cleaning that is plastic-free and that is the toothbrush stick and a wooden toothbrush bristling with pigs hair. The rest of the options offer varying degrees of satisfaction. My call to action for you would be to try some of these options attempting to get as high up this list as possible and of course get your old toothbrushes to a local collection point and if you don’t have one create one.