We all leave our mark on this planet; unfortunately, some a lot more than others. Every single day, we throw out products that are born of the earth, but cannot decompose and return to it. While many of us have consciously begun to cut down the use of bottles and packaging materials, many plastic items we use on a daily basis still go unnoticed —like toothbrushes. How can something as innocuous as a toothbrush be a threat to our planet, you ask?
Here are some shocking facts.
- Each year, 3.5 billion toothbrushes are sold worldwide and over 150 million toothbrushes end up in landfills each month
- On an average, each of us discards 300 toothbrushes during the course of our lifetime
- The amount of water taken to make those many toothbrushes for everyone in the world is approximately 7.6 trillion litres — that’s enough water to fill up a little over 3 million Olympic swimming pools
- The plastic and the nylon bristles of a toothbrush are derived from petroleum and crude oil
- Nylon manufacturing creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide
In ancient India, people used twigs of herbs as toothbrushes. This practice is the norm in some parts of the country even today. The end of the twig is chewed on to form bristles, which reaches all corners of the teeth and cleans them. Typically, twigs from neem, asana and khadira are chosen for this purpose. Not only do these twigs have medicinal qualities, they are also 100% biodegradable. But having got accustomed to toothbrushes, making a 180° and returning to twigs does not seem like a very practical solution for many of us. Some may even question its effectiveness and hygiene. So what is the alternative for those of us who do not want to give up the luxuries of modern day and still want to minimise our carbon footprint?
The Eco-Friendlier Toothbrushes, but Watch Out for…
Some eco-conscious companies collect used yoghurt cups, lip balm tubes and other plastics that are destined for landfills, treat them, melt them and give them a second life as toothbrushes handles. While there is no denying that the plastic from the toothbrush will eventually end up in the landfill, these companies delay the inevitable. Unfortunately, these types of toothbrushes are not readily available in India at the time of writing this blog. If you’re traveling to USA or Australia, you can check out brands like Preserve or Bogobrush.
Replaceable Head Toothbrushes
The only part of the toothbrush that gets worn out or need to be replaced regularly are the bristles. So why throw out the entire toothbrush? Electric toothbrushes come with spare brush-heads so you can replace only the head when it’s time for a change. Unfortunately most electric toothbrushes run on batteries, which cause bigger environmental damage when improperly disposed. You can, however, check out some of the manual toothbrushes that now come with replaceable heads, like Eco-dent and Radius.
Plastic-free toothbrushes are the more easily available alternatives in India today. These toothbrushes are made from woods like bamboo. These toothbrushes are 100% biodegradable and also sustainable. The wood for these brushes are sourced from fast-growing bamboo plants that are also self-renewing, so there is no need for chopping down a tree. However, pay special attention to the raw material of the bristles. Some companies use pig hair for a 100% eco-friendly alternative; but bamboo fibre, corn fibre and nylon 4 bristles are also available now. You can check out brands like Bamboo India that employ artisans in rural India. Talk about a bonus impact.
The shift to alternative dental hygiene requires significant behavioural change. Eco-toothbrushes are not likely to become part of the mainstream consumer market any time soon. They’re not readily available in supermarkets; however, the internet — and GoNative — come to the rescue. Priced at two, sometimes three, times the conventional toothbrush, they’re certainly more expensive; but can one really put a price tag on the future of the planet?