PLASTIC FREE JANUARY – TIP #13
In Australia alone it’s estimated that over 30 million plastic toothbrushes are used annually. While that may seem like a needle in a haystack when it comes to annual household waste, those 30 million toothbrushes add up to 1,000 tonnes of plastic waste ending up in Australian landfills each year. Now imagine over six billion people discarding their plastic toothbrush every few months. The visual becomes very clear—it’s a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.
The very simple solution? Stop purchasing plastic toothbrushes. It really is that simple.
Bamboo and other biodegradable toothbrushes are becoming more common in the mainstream market today. But don’t be fooled by the greenwash. While it’s great to see the big box stores providing more eco-friendly alternatives, selling a plastic free product in a box with a plastic window is not taking the plastic pollution situation seriously enough. Take a pass on these brands and opt for a toothbrush that’s plastic packaging free.
Before we delve into into how eco-friendly or biodegradable a bamboo toothbrush is, it’s very important to note that the majority of bamboo or otherwise biodegradable toothbrushes on the market today still contain small amounts of plastic. While the handle may be biodegradable, the bristles are typically made from a nylon material. Although it may be a little disheartening to learn most bamboo toothbrushes are not zero waste, it’s definitely better than purchasing a 100 per cent plastic brush that will end up in the landfill.
Now that we’ve got the issue of the plastic bristles out of the way. Let’s take a look at how eco-friendly the rest of the brush is. Bamboo is a sustainable material. It requires no fertilisers, is not only easy to grow but is also fast growing. Added to that, a bamboo toothbrush handle will biodegrade naturally if simply tossed into a patch of dirt or added to your compost.
When your bamboo toothbrush starts to loose it’s bristles it’s time for a new brush. Prior to discarding your old bamboo toothbrush, it’s important to remove the bristles first. If the brush has already started loosing its bristles removing the rest of the bristles from the bamboo handle won’t be too difficult. If the bristles are not easy to remove with your fingers, you can pull them out with a pair of pliers. Alternatively, leave the bristles intact and instead use the brush as a cleaning brush — just as you would a plastic toothbrush. Over time the bamboo will eventually start to break down and release the plastic bristles.
Once your bristles have been removed from the brush there are many options for discarding the bamboo handle. The handle of your brush is perfect to use as a herb or vegetable marker. It’s a great looking marker that will naturally break down in your garden. Don’t have a vegetable patch? The bamboo handle can be pushed into the ground in any part of your garden. If the handle is hidden from view no-one will be the wiser that you’re discarding your old toothbrushes in your yard, allowing them to fade back into nature. And finally, if you’re composting your waste, the bamboo toothbrush can be thrown in with your compost. Throwing it into general waste should be your very last option.
If you’ve been following EORTH’s completely unscientific compostability tests you would be aware of the results of the PATCH Plastic Free Band Aid, receiving a 10/10 for completely breaking down and disappearing back into nature. Our Compostable Straw test did not go so well, currently not receiving any marks on the home compostability test.
Next up in EORTH’s biodegradability test lab is the Bamboo Toothbrush.
How quickly does bamboo toothbrush biodegrade?
Over the past few years we’ve added a few bamboo handles to our bio-test patch, used them as garden markers and added them out compost bin. And we can happily report that these bamboo toothbrushes do indeed break down naturally, no matter where they are placed. Another 10/10 result!
As you can see from the images the above, the bamboo toothbrush was placed into the ground with the (animal hair) bristles exposed. The bamboo brush handle that was in direct contact with the ground has broken down quicker than when left in the open air. Now over six months later the only part of the toothbrush remaining is the head, which was the part sticking out of the ground.
Please note: This brush was purchased during a visit to Canada, the bristles were left in the bamboo handle as they were made from animal hair.
Although there are many biodegradable brushes available on the market today, EORTH recommends selecting a bush with a bamboo handle. These brushes will break down naturally, simply by placing them into the ground. While bioplastic toothbrushes are a better alternative to a plastic toothbrush, and will not harm the environment, (in the sense that it will eventually break down into nature), the timeframe in which it will do so is questionable.
Are you ready to make the switch to a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush?