3.5 billion plastic toothbrushes are sold worldwide each year, producing 50 million pounds of waste* — and that’s just in the U.S. These plastic pests can’t be recycled (c’mon smart person, invent a machine that can recycle these!). When toothbrushes don’t find their way to landfills, many end up in waterways and oceans where maritime animals will confuse them for food. It’s a problem.
In a recent article published by National Geographic, Alejandra Borunda writes, “Plastic has so fully infiltrated toothbrush design that it’s nearly impossible to clean our teeth without touching a polymer. And because plastic is essentially indestructible, that means nearly every single toothbrush made since the 1930s is still out there in the world somewhere, living on as a piece of trash.” Wow! Think on this for a second… every single toothbrush since the 1930s is still out there! The article also estimates that in our lifetime, each of us will use 300 toothbrushes.
Armed with this info, What’s Good set out to find a planet-friendly toothbrush. First a little background: As a general rule, we don’t offer products made from bamboo. For a couple of reasons: Over the last decade, bamboo has become synonymous with all things eco, but we forget that native forests and animal habitats are being cut down to plant bamboo. And, since bamboo is largely grown in China, most products containing bamboo are manufactured there which means there’s a lot of energy needed to get it here. And because bamboo is technically a grass, it is more often than not bonded with harsh chemicals to create a solid piece. Not to mention (but I will), often harvested with unsafe and unethical labor practices.
We’re sharing this because 99% of all eco toothbrushes are made with bamboo. We did find one brand made with hardwood, however— this is a big HOWEVER—the bristles are boars’ hair. Sure, it’s cool that they’re using a byproduct of another industry. That’s good practice. We applaud them. But… none of us could stomach brushing our teeth with it.
We also found some toothbrushes with removable heads, so you keep the plastic bottom and replace the head as needed. We couldn’t stomach this either. It’s still plastic. If you are anything like me… you’ll leave your toothbrush in hotel rooms and wherever else your travels take you. Which means that fancy plastic handled toothbrush will eventually be thrown out and live an eternity in some landfill, or worse, wash up on the shores of a pristine Hawaiian beach.
The eco choice isn’t always easy or obvious, and it is rarely perfect. Sometimes you get real close. Enter the GreenPanda toothbrush. A solid bamboo toothbrush made in the USA (60 miles north of Manhattan) that we love. Yep. I said bamboo. It is 100% Mao Zhu bamboo, sustainably sourced for its natural strength and antimicrobial qualities. And because pandas don't eat this kind of bamboo, a precious resource isn't being taken from animal habitat. The head of the brush features plant-based fiber bristles (made from caster beans) designed for comfort and hygiene.
We feel good about this product because it helps us reduce our dependence on plastic, and reduces plastic going into landfills and natural habitats. And while we have our battle with bamboo, it is a renewable resource and comes from a sustainably managed plantation. Like I said, it’s not the perfect solution, but imagine if everyone used this toothbrush? It would be a heck of a step in the right direction.
So… buy a bunch for your guest rooms, your next trip, and for when your electric toothbrush dies. And when you’re done with it, use it again… for the dog, to clean your bike chain, to polish silver. And then when you’re finally done done with it, remove the bristles and use it for camp fire kindling or compost it. Happy brushing.
*Info from GreenPanda Alejandra Borunda. "How your toothbrush became a part of the plastic crisis." National Geographic.com,June 14 2019, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/06/story-of-plastic-toothbrushes. Accessed November 11, 2019.
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