Brush. Rinse. Floss. Repeat. These are the usual steps in cleaning your mouth after devouring tons and tons of food during a celebration. Your handy dandy toothbrush, mouthwash, and floss make your teeth sparkling clean and your breath fresh. Our current set-up with our oral hygiene is these tools are made or packaged with plastics. Since these products are disposable after months of use, it will just add to the heap of plastic problem. How can we turn these oral buddies to sustainable ones?
America alone discards about a billion toothbrushes annually. Moreover, they contribute 50 million pounds of waste to landfills (O’Dowd, 2016). After the recommended three month use, most of these toothbrushes just fill up landfills and decompose for about a year. Others are used as cleaners for sneakers, containers, or tiles. Due to its large contribution to waste, there were several efforts for the reduction of oral products waste. One of it is the creation of recyclable toothbrushes. Preserve made toothbrushes wherein their handles were made from #5 polypropylene plastics collected from individuals and yoghurt pots. The Guardian reported that the company’s toothbrush has a market of 85.6 billion dollars. This brand is currently popular in the United States.
Aside from Preserve’s recyclable handle toothbrushes, another alternative for the conventional plastic toothbrush is the bamboo toothbrush. Bamboo toothbrush is comprised of bamboo handle and nylon bristles. Since bamboo is a biodegradable material, you can just throw this toothbrush away and wait for around six months for it to decompose (Ross, 2018); though the issue with nylon bristles are their microplastic contribution. Bamboo is a great material for replacing plastic as handle due to its high tensile strength and rapid growth (Balch, O). A mechanically extracted bamboo fiber has an average strength of 503 MegaPascals (Rao, 2007). One great advantage of bamboo handles is they reduce their carbon footprint compared to plastic handle production. The production of the biodegradable handle does not need involve much oil consumption.
Regarding the microbial contamination concerns, Afrin and the team (2012) were able to deduce that the bamboo’s antibacterial property is found in the plant’s lignin. The antibacterial agents in lignin is also water insoluble; thus, it would make the brush safer from any bacterial harm. However, the production of bamboo handles should be careful enough in order not to remove the antibacterial component of the bamboo. In a study conducted by Chiu (2006), the bacteria, Vibrio parahaemolyticus (gastrointestinal illness causing bacteria), were not able to survive after 30 minutes of contact time with bamboo cutting board.
Nylon bristles are commonly used in the available toothbrush. They are flexible wherein they can be formed into various shapes and softer compared to those infused with charcoal. Moreover, they do not easily abrade and are easier to clean (Baruah, 2017).
Once you got the bamboo toothbrush in your hand, here are some ways to properly store and dispose it:
- Store the toothbrush in a dry area. Avoid containers which collect water in order to maintain the handle dry.
- Clean the bristles the same way with the conventional ones.
- This toothbrush has the same lifespan with conventional brushes; however, it is recommended by dentists that toothbrush should be replaced every three months.
- Remove the nylon bristles with pliers in order to segregate the biodegradable and nonbiodegradable components.
- After bristle removal, the handle could be thrown into compost or creatively recycled.
- Afrin, T., Tsuzuki, T., Kanwar, R. K., & Wang, X. (2012). The origin of the antibacterial property of bamboo. Journal of the Textile Institute, 103(8), 844–849. doi:10.1080/00405000.2011.614742
- Aviat, F., Gerhards, C., Rodriguez‐Jerez, J. J., Michel, V., Bayon, I. L., Ismail, R., & Federighi, M. (2016). Microbial safety of wood in contact with food: a review. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 15(3), 491-505.
- Balch, O. (2016). https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/oct/06/eco-toothbrushes-biodegradable-bamboo-pig-hair-yogurt-pots-plastic-waste-landfill
- Baruah, K., Thumpala, V. K., Khetani, P., Baruah, Q., Tiwari, R. V., & Dixit, H. (2017) A Review on Toothbrushes and Tooth Brushing Methods.
- Brush with Bamboo. https://www.brushwithbamboo.com/proper-care-disposal/
- Chiu TH. 2006. Efficacy of electrolysed oxidizing water in inactivating Vibrio parahaemolyticus on kitchen cutting boards and food contact surfaces. Lett Applied Microbiol 43(6):666–72.
- O, Dowd, E. (2016). https://www.biobasedworldnews.com/sustainable-toothbrushes
Preserve (n.d.) https://www.preserveproducts.com/explore/gimme-5
- Rao, K. M. M., & Rao, K. M. (2007). Extraction and tensile properties of natural fibers: Vakka, date and bamboo. Composite structures, 77(3), 288-295
- Ross, C. (2018). https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/should-you-be-switching-your-plastic-toothbrush-for-a-bamboo-one_uk_5b5591a2e4b0fd5c73c6e281?guccounter=1&guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS5waC8&guce_referrer_cs=8deRtkuBziXW-suLrlbkZg