One toothbrush may not be very large but so many are used by most of the population in the United States and replaced so often as the bristles flatten that landfills are full of them, 4.7 billion or over 50 million pounds worth a year.
Some companies have found green ways of minimizing their environmental impact by reducing the virgin resources used in their production and the waste created in their disposal and packaging.
Brush With Bamboo
Brush With Bamboo toothbrushes have a bamboo handle, soft BPA-free Nylon bristles, and come in a biodegradable paper box with a compostable in commercial facilities wrapper made of Polylactic Acid derived from corn. Being concerned about the issues in industrial corn production involving genetic manipulation, fertilizers and pesticides, they are making the switch to a plant-based Cellulose wrapper that does not use corn..
Nylon bristles are used because "there is no available plant-based option that would allow you to use your toothbrush for 2-4 months. The only biodegradable option is Boar/Pig hair, which we did not want to use." They last the same amount of time as a plastic toothbrush and are available on the website in a starter pack for $11.99 or a four pack for $19.99 with free shipping in the U.S.
The downside is they are made from bamboo sourced from China, and the brushes are bristled and assembled in China. However, the company does use U.S. testing agencies to verify the brushes are chemical-free and BPA-free and there is a full-time American-managed team in China "ensuring worker safety, cleanliness, and good working conditions."
The bamboo used is farmed, not old growth bamboo, has natural antimicrobial properties and no pesticides are necessary for growing it. There is hope that new sources in Alabama and Hawaii will be able to provide organic bamboo for the company.
Recycline Preserve makes their toothbrushes in the United States out of one hundred percent post-consumer recycled polypropylene #5 plastic, 25 to 65 percent from recycled Stonyfield Farm yogurt containers and the rest from plastic returned to them in their Gimme5 recycling program. They have a bent handle, soft Nylon bristles, and cost $3 on the website. The brushes come wrapped in recycled plastic that also serves as a prepaid mailer for sending them back to the manufacturer for recycling of both the brush and the wrapper. There is a Jr. Preserve version for children.
Some Whole Foods stores offer recycling for #5 plastics like Tom's of Maine deodorant containers, medicine bottles, Brita filters, and all Preserve products and other #5 plastic containers. This is preferable to mailing them if a participating Whole Foods store is nearby versus the energy that is wasted transporting one item at a time in the mail. But Preserve is to be commended for arranging an easy method for consumers to recycle their products.
One downside of Preserve toothbrushes is that they are made of plastic which should maybe not be going in the mouth. And the recycled toothbrushes are used in making plastic lumber which does not lessen the virgin plastic needed to make the original yogurt containers and Brita filters. But they do reduce both the number of virgin plastic toothbrushes purchased and going into landfills.
Acca Kappa Biocete
The Italian company Acca Kappa's biocete toothbrushes have natural handles and bristles. The handles are made from a biodegradable substance extracted from cotton called cellulose acetate which breaks down in six months. They are available on Amazon for $9.95.
The Environmental Toothbrush™
The Environmental Toothbrush, designed in Australia and made in China, has a bamboo handle and #4 Nylon bristles and is wrapped in a compostable cardboard box and polypropylene inner wrapper. The company says the bristles are biodegradable in soil within four months where nylon #6 is not. Most of the packaging is compostable and not plastic. The handle is shorter and the bristles harder than those of the Preserve.
The downside of the Environmental Toothbrush is its inner white wrapper made from nonwoven polypropylene plastic that an International Sales Manager said was required to pass health restrictions.
Miswak Sewak Sticks
The Miswak sewak is the natural way people in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia have cleaned their teeth for centuries. The bark is peeled off the tip of the stick from Asian Arak or Peelu trees, olive or walnut trees and the end chewed to separate fibers to rub on the teeth. As the fibers wear, the tip is cut off and the end peeled and chewed. A box of 60 costs $41 on Amazon.
Miswak sticks get in between crevices in teeth, promote tooth remineralization and strengthen enamel, are antibacterial and prevent infections, and promote saliva and blood circulation as the sticks are chewed. They contain minerals, alkaloids, vitamin C and calcium.
The downside is they are not made in the U.S. and they come wrapped in plastic.
Neem Sticks are the version of the Miswak sewak that residents of India have used for centuries. Neem Tree Farms in Florida ships Neem Sticks the same day they are harvested and without plastic packaging. They recommend not storing them in anything plastic. They sell Neem Stick seedling plants for those who have a place to grow their own. The seedlings start at $19.99. They are a tropical plant and do not do well in freezing temperatures.
On the other end of the spectrum from natural sticks is the high technology Soladey-J3X toothbrush that uses solar power to charge the brush's base. The solar energy combined with the moisture-activated titanium dioxide rod in the neck of the brush creates a chemical reaction releasing minus electrons that break down plaque in the mouth.
Electric toothbrushes are not considered green because they either use electricity or batteries, neither of which is as good for the environment as hand power. The Soladey is included despite the fact that it is made in Japan by the Shiken Company and will be shipped a distance and the unknown of how long the machine will last and whether the technology is that much more effective in preserving teeth than traditional brushing. If it results in noticeably fewer cavities so less fillings and crowns are needed, it could be a big plus for health and the environment.