When the bristles go soft and your teeth still feel cruddy despite your recent brushing, you know it’s time to toss your toothbrush and get a new one.
But after you’ve chucked it in the bin, where does your old toothbrush go?
The truth is, nowhere.
A plastic toothbrush takes approximately 400 years to decompose. That means even the first toothbrushes, which were made in the 1930s, are still buried somewhere. If that’s not mind-bending enough, according to National Geographic you’re likely to use around 300 toothbrushes during your lifetime. And that’s just you. When you consider there are 7.8 billion people in the world who potentially use lots of toothbrushes too… Well, that’s a big number of toothbrushes heading to landfill.
It’s a scary thought.
These billions of toothbrushes impact our environment. They’re part of the plastic problem. Facts provided by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation tell us:
- Eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year
- 40,000 pieces of plastic are estimated to float in each square kilometre of the ocean
- 75% of what is removed from beaches is made of plastic
- 800 species worldwide are affected by marine debris (plastics cause death to more than a million seabirds and more than 100,000 sea mammals each year).
But you’re just trying to keep your teeth clean, why should you care about recycling your toothbrush?
A few reasons.
Toothbrushes are made from a mixture of different plastics, rubber and crude oil (petroleum) that can be harmful to the environment. During the manufacturing process, more plastic and crude oil is used. Crude oil is non-renewable and the usage of it increases the demand for oil wells (impacting habitats and ecosystems). While we can’t avoid this in general we can lessen the need for it by making simple changes, like the toothbrushes we choose and how we dispose of old ones.
Switching your toothbrush can help the planet
Being aware of how we impact the environment and our future is key. Doing what you can to help is as much as anyone can ask. Fortunately, there’s plenty of clever alternatives out there, especially when it comes to toothbrushes.
As dentists, we’re very keen to make sure you continue to care for your teeth while saving the planet. Choosing to use a non-plastic toothbrush is a simple, environmentally friendly step you can take to decreasing the amount of plastic you use.
Use an eco friendly toothbrush
Biodegradable toothbrushes don’t take 400 years to disappear. Environmentally friendly cornstarch or bamboo toothbrushes generally take 5-6 years to decompose. If you have a composter, it can take less than a year! Some companies even got the extra eco-mile and package their biodegradable brushes in biodegradable packaging. Nice.
There are lots of companies offering fun, plant based brushes in different sizes and colours. Just ask Google. Some even offer subscriptions, removing the pain of you having to remember when it’s time to replace your toothbrush.
If a bamboo or cornstarch toothbrush doesn’t tickle your fancy, how about toothbrushes made of recycled plastic? This doesn’t mean you get a toothbrush previously used by someone else. (Yuck!) But it does mean the plastic has had another life previously. For example, it may have been made from old yoghurt pots.
Making more out of your toothbrush
Using an eco-firendly toothbrush is one way you can help the planet. The other is by recycling your old toothbrushes.
Depending on the type of plastic, your old toothbrush can be:
- Reused – the materials are cleaned, separated and reused around the world.
- Upcycled – existing products are used to create new products, or they are repurposed
- Recycled – plastic is separated and melted into pallets that can be used to create new plastic products (eg. the yoghurt cup toothbrush!)
Giving your old product a new life rather than creating toxic landfill is an easy way to do your bit.
You can also upcycle old toothbrushes yourself. Author Kathryn Kellogg , writer of 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, has great ideas on how to reuse your old toothbrush here.
How to recycle your toothbrush
Recycling company TerraCycle are helping in the fight against dental products ending up in landfill. Supported and funded by well-known oral health brands, they encourage us to use their recycling program which accepts old toothbrushes and empty toothpaste tubes.
Handily, Keppel Dental is your local recycling point for dental products. Just hand your old brushes in at reception and we’ll put it in our recycle box.
Accepted products include:
- manual toothbrushes,
- electric toothbrush heads,
- empty toothpaste tubes and
- floss packets.
Set a reminder to bring these to your next Keppel Dental appointment. All we ask is that the products are clean and dry. Please remove all leftover toothpaste and floss.
The cherry on top? Bring us your old toothbrushes and we’ll reward your love for the plant by giving you a new toothbrush.