Boy, it has been ages since I last wrote about sustainable toothbrushes. My dear Instagram followers know that I went really far down the rabbit hole on my quest to find the most sustainable toothbrush ever since. I thought all I had to do was to read the product information and compare the different bamboo toothbrushes on the market, but oh, was I wrong...
The Truth about "100% compostable" or "100% plastic-free" Toothbrushes
Well, just like many people's Facebook relationship status, it is complicated. There is no perfect toothbrush, but some choices are better than others. Do not get me wrong, most manufacturers I know of do strive to make their toothbrush as sustainable as possible. They are a passionate bunch, trying to make this world a better place. But it just isn't an easy task they took on.
Most of these toothbrushes have a bamboo handle. This makes a lot of sense, because bamboo is antibacterial by nature and a ridiculously fast growing plant. Some, but very few, stick to local wood. Both are great options. However, this is the easy part.
What's tricky is the material of the bristles. There is always the traditional option of using pig hair. Yes, 100% natural and compostable, but not quite cruelty-free. What's more, pig hair is hollow inside, making it the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. You can still find wooden toothbrushes with pig hair if you want to, especially in Germany and Austria, where the traditional craft of making brushes from natural materials is still very much alive. If you do want to go for this option, I would recommend you to sterilize your toothbrush with boiling water every couple of days.
A while back, nylon-4 was all the rage. Nylon-4 is a petroleum (= fossil fuel) based plastic that is said to biodegrade within months. Long story short: Nylon-4 seems to be biodegradable (≠ compostable), as studies like this one suggest. Sadly, in reality, all is not gold that glitters. True nylon-4 is hard to come by due to a lack of manufacturers, and many suppliers sell fake nylon-4. So many sustainable toothbrush companies thought they were making truly 100% bidegradable toothbrushes, followed by a rude awakening.
100% Bamboo Viscose
Recently, I have seen several new toothbrushes popping up, claiming to have completely plastic-free bristles made from 100% bamboo viscose. These toothbrushes are said to be 100% biodegradable. This is weird, because as of now, there was no way to produce bristles out of bamboo viscose without adding plastic. The material would break while being formed into bristles. Bristles made from 100% bamboo viscose would be a huge break through—and yet there is no patent and no news surrounding this groundbreaking innovation.
Well, a simple way to check is by burning it. Synthetic materials like plastic will smell really bad, the smoke will be black and the material will melt as opposed to burning clean. (Detailed table here) So far I haven't seen or heard of any of these bristles burn clean like 100% "natural" material would. I believe it is the same issue as with the nylon-4 suppliers, and it seems like many toothbrush brands were not aware of it when I told them about it.
So what is the best choice?
In the end, it is always up to each and everyone of us to decide. Pig hair is definitely not something I would personally want to brush my teeth with. So for me, Brush with Bamboo is the best option, because they have managed to minimize the amount of plastic in the bristles to 38%. The other 62% are Castor Bean Oil. The plastic is regular plastic derived from petroleum.
This new bristle that we are now using is the best available option. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. (Brush with Bamboo)
The entire toothbrush is chemical-free and BPA-free.
Brush with bamboo is eager to try to find solutions to ultimately make the toothbrush completely plastic-free and compostable, while keeping it vegan. Right now, they are testing different bioplastics in their machines and are also searching for all-natural materials. Really, you just have to admire this kind of dedication!
The handle is organic and from wild grown bamboo. It is not a bamboo species that pandas eat. What I really admire is the fact that they have a full-time American-managed team on the ground in China ensuring worker safety, cleanliness, and good working conditions.
The packaging is fully compostable. The outer box is made from recycled paper–no glue or tape–and can be put into the paper recycling or be composted. The wrapper is derived from corn starch and compostable in commercial/city composters within 30 days. It would probably decompose in a backyard composter or a worm bin as well, but would take considerably longer because of the lack of heat (at least 130ºF/55ºC).
Corn production is controversial, so I asked Ro from Brush with Bamboo if a paper sleeve would be an option. The German toothbrush hydrophil uses a pretty low tech paper sleeve. Unfortunately, in the US, the wrapper needs to be sealed, or they might get sued. However, they are very aware of the problems with corn production and do not support the practice. This is the reason why they are working on a new cellulose wrapper made from FSC certified wood cellulose. It is still in the testing phase, so fingers crossed!
I had had my eyes on their toothbrushes for a while now to be honest! But until recently I was living in Germany and so I stuck to my bamboo toothbrush with BPA-free nylon (= plastic) bristles that I could buy in the vegan health food store just a ten minute walk from my home. When my husband and I relocated to Vancouver, Canada two months ago, I knew this was the toothbrush we would have to get our hands on!
However, if you are not set on having a toothbrush and open to exploring other options, you could consider miswak or neem chewing sticks as 100% natural options! I have tried miswak, but have yet to try neem sticks. Both miswak and neem are used very similarly. If you live in the US, lucky you! Brush with Bamboo sells neem sticks from a farm in Florida in a paper-only packaging! Unfortunately, they cannot ship neem sticks to Canada due to some stupid regulations for agricultural products. It is quite difficult to get both miswak or neem sticks without plastic packaging. Trust me, I have tried. If you do, however, these are the most natural and eco-friendly options! They do take some getting used to and of course practice. I myself have not mastered the technique yet, but even with my poor fine motor skills my teeth felt very clean afterwards.
To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on either this blog article or on my Instagram post. What toothbrush do you currently use? Have you ever used a bamboo toothbrush? Are there stores that sell bamboo toothbrushes where you live or do you have to order them online?
The giveaway is open to blog readers and instagrammers from the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Please keep in mind that all orders are shipped from the Los Angeles office in Diamond Bar, California.
This giveaway ends on Sunday, May 7 at 11:59pm PST. The six winners will be chosen by random and announced on Monday, May 8. Please make sure you leave your email address when you comment on the blog post. Only I can see your email address, and I will only forward it to Brush with Bamboo if you win.