I try and make small swaps to produce a little less waste. In a former job, I actually managed an online community known as the “Waste Hub”. I know a bit too much about waste.
…and bamboo toothbrushes make me angry. Why?
I bought a bamboo toothbrush from a lovely independent store a while ago, thinking, “Brilliant, one less bit of plastic to throw into landfill.” But then I got home and tried it and thought, “Gosh, I didn’t know you could make bristles out of bamboo, I wonder if it’s a bit like the bamboo fabric you get?” So I looked it up.
Problem one: the plastic
The bristles are not bamboo. They are, almost always, nylon, or some other plastic. Which means that as soon as they get mixed up with food waste (well, that is what is between your teeth, after all), they can’t be recycled. And they most certainly can’t be composted.
Problem two: the lie
I felt really betrayed by my toothbrush. I understand that some things are hard – like making bristles out of biodegradable things – but then I would expect brands that are selling products which are supposed to be “better” for the environment, such as bamboo toothbrushes, to be transparent and honest about the challenges they are still facing. They could say: “the bristles aren’t there yet, but we swapped the handle!” If they were smart designers, they could even design a toothbrush where the plastic head is really easy to remove (maybe it unclips? I’m no designer… if you are and you’re reading this, please do something about this). Or they could do a marketing campaign which shows lots of people pulling hilarious faces as they pulled out their toothbrush bristles before chucking the handle in the food waste bin.
But no. They just market a “bamboo” toothbrush in eco-looking packaging to dupe us all.
Problem three: too tough to handle
So I, slightly reluctantly, used my bamboo toothbrush until it really did become too manky to keep using. And yesterday, I decided to throw it away.
As a conscientious waste-warrior, I tried to pull out the plastic bristles so I could throw the handle. Could I? No! They were really well stuck in. I normally praise an item when it doesn’t fall apart, but this is getting ridiculous. I had to use our breadknife to cut the tip off.
Problem four: why metal? why?
Here came the real shock. I turned the tip over to find two small metal rods inside the handle.
I suspect these are in here to make the whole item more solid. Because, guess what, plastic endures better than bamboo does (so maybe bamboo isn’t optimised for this sort of product after all. I hope someone is taking notes). But what these metal rods actually do is make my waste problem worse: there are now three materials for me to separate before I can compost or recycle them, and they’re basically impossible to divide from each other.
The result? Landfill.
I threw the whole lot in our black bin. Anything else would have been wishcycling.
I’m not going to name and shame the toothbrush brand, because I did try and look up a few alternatives and had no luck: at best, some of the alternative brands were more honest and gave instructions on pulling out the bristles. Perhaps some of them don’t have metal in them either. I’ve heard you can get hog hair toothbrushes, but that sounds a bit gross even to me… maybe I’ll give that a go next.
(I bought myself a new plastic toothbrush. Let me know when someone has designed an actual solution to the plastic toothbrush problem.)