When we think about how we care for our mouth, it might be easy to think that there is little in common between our oral health and the environment — but that’s not quite true.
Dr. Nigel Carter, OBE
Chief Executive, Oral Health Foundation
In addition to turning off the tap when brushing (which saves a staggering 12 liters of water each time), there’s an important connection that applies to all of us — and it revolves around our toothbrush.
Toothbrushes form a part of our daily routine. Twice a day, morning and night, for two minutes, they help clean our teeth and keep our mouth healthy. Despite this, the shelf-life of a toothbrush is a relatively short one. In theory, we should only use each one 180 times, for a total of six hours over a period of three months.
This means that in the United States, around 1.5 billion toothbrushes are bought and discarded every year, with the vast majority of them ending up in landfill and sometimes our oceans. That’s a very big pile of plastic. So, what can we do about it? Well, the answer is more than you think.
Sourcing the right materials
When it comes to sustainable source materials for oral health products, using recycled plastics for toothbrushes may come to mind. However, it’s not always a good solution. This is because some recycled plastics may contain hazardous materials that cannot come into contact with the mouth.
Instead, we’re seeing manufacturers embrace an exciting shift in the use of renewable plastics, like biobased plastic. These are made from plants such as sugar cane and the castor oil plant. These bioplastics are helping manufacturers move away from fossil-based plastics and create a smaller carbon footprint.
Oral health companies are also looking at new materials for their bristles. Currently, most nylon used is non-biodegradable and a stumbling block when it comes to a toothbrush’s recyclability. Nylon 4 is biodegradable and shows some promise, so I suspect it won’t be long until we see viable alternatives.
Reusing our plastics
While companies are looking for ways to make oral health products more sustainable and environmentally friendly, there’s also things we can do to help as consumers. Reusing oral health products, such as toothbrushes, is a great way to extend their life and ensure you get the most out of them.
Our findings show that eighty percent of people use their old toothbrush for an alternative purpose, which is great for the environment. Not surprisingly, cleaning is the most common theme. Scrubbing bathroom tiles is the most popular use at 40 percent. 28 percent of us use our past toothbrushes to assist in cleaning various kitchen appliances, more than a quarter use them to give an extra glimmer to our jewelry, and 18 percent use the oral hygiene product to shine shoes.
Other popular uses include cleaning bike and car wheels, computer keyboards, toilets and toilets seats, fish tanks, and fingernails. A clean sweep all around!
A promising future
While there is still a lot of work to be done, I hope this article has given you some reasons to smile and have hope for the future. We’re seeing some fantastic innovation in the oral health industry, including commitments from a number of manufacturers to reach for carbon neutrality in products and packaging over the next few years. As consumers, we can help by letting companies know that the sustainability and environmental impact of their products matters.
Ultimately, we want to live in a world where everyone has access to tools that can help them maintain good oral health. It is important this does not come at the expense of the environment.