This blog post will discuss the question “is toothbrush biodegradable?” and will cover issues related to it such as its impact on the environment, its composition, its making, its types, whether it can be recycled or not and the alternatives and what exactly does scientific research says about it.
Is a toothbrush biodegradable?
No, a toothbrush is not biodegradable. A substance is only referred to as biodegradable if it has the ability to be decomposed by the microbes and microorganisms.
The toothbrush is made out of a plastic handle and nylon bristles. Both of these elements are made from fossil fuel. Substances like plastics, metals etc are non-biodegradable. They can’t be broken down by microbes. As a result, conventional toothbrushes are not biodegradable.
Plastic is a product of petroleum while nylon on the other hand is made from different plastics. Both of these products are non-biodegradable.
How is a toothbrush made?
Tiny plastic granules are put into a massive steel pan known as a vat and heated to create plastic dough. A machine then shapes the dough into the shape of the handle, including holes at one end for the bristles.
Different colors of plastic are sometimes utilized, and rubber may be molded into the plastic to assist to keep the grasp. The handles are then sorted so that they all face the same direction, with their holes facing upwards, ready for the bristles.
The bristles are constructed of long strands of nylon, another type of plastic that can be twisted into very thin fibers. A machine lengthens the bristles and pats them down to ensure they’re all the same length. The bristles are folded in half and inserted into each hole, a procedure that takes so little time that hundreds of holes are filled per minute.
A tiny staple is put over the fold and into the brush’s base to keep the bristles from falling into your mouth. When they are all in place, the bristles are cut into shape, and the toothbrushes are ready to be packaged.
Are there different types of toothbrushes?
Yes, there are several different types of toothbrushes. These toothbrushes are categorized on the basis of their composition.
- Plastic toothbrush: plastic toothbrushes are the most conventional type of toothbrush found in almost every other household. They are made up of plastic and nylon bristles. They are relatively cheaper and more accessible to the masses as compared to the other types of toothbrushes.
However, they are extremely detrimental to the environment because of the products they are made of. Plastic and nylon both are non biodegradable thus contributing to land pollution.
- Boar-bristles toothbrush: at the present, the most environmentally friendly toothbrushes are the ones which are made from plants and animals. The boar-bristles toothbrush are somewhat compostable and are made from sustainably harvested wood and boar hair.
- Bamboo toothbrush: bamboo toothbrushes are made from wild-grown bamboo and the bristles are made from castor bean oil. These toothbrushes have a smaller ecological footprint as compared to other toothbrushes.
Are toothbrushes hazardous to the environment?
Yes, toothbrushes are hazardous to the environment. It does not matter if the question is about the conventional plastic toothbrushes or eco-friendly toothbrushes, all of them are impacting the environment in one way or another.
The plastic toothbrushes are not eco-friendly, because they are made from plastic and nylon, they take hundreds of years to be completely decomposed. These toothbrushes either end up in landfills or waterways. These toothbrushes harm marine life the most.
The plastic ends up destroying their digestive organs. Most of the plastic toothbrushes that were first made are still present on the earth and have not decomposed as of yet.
The boar-bristles toothbrush despite being compostable because it is made from animal and plant products is still affecting the environment. The boars specifically harvested for this purpose are impacting the environment by contributing towards global warming as more boars are being bred beyond the natural ecosystem balance.
This in turn ends up contributing to greenhouse emissions. The more investments are made for the boar products the more the ecosystem is disturbed.
The thought of using bamboo toothbrushes seems like a very eco-friendly idea, however this is not the case entirely. Special instructions are given to dispose of the bamboo toothbrushes, if those instructions are not followed, these toothbrushes will take up to several years to be decomposed. The bristles on the bamboo toothbrush are made from nylon and they can never be bio-degraded.
The growing demand for bamboo is making them grow as monocrop. Monocrops decrease biodiversity and reduce the nutrients in the soil and make the land more erode.
Are there any alternatives for toothbrush that are biodegradable?
Yes, there are alternatives for toothbrushes that are biodegradable.
- Bioplastic toothbrush: toothbrushes that are made from bioplastic are prone to biodegradation as they are made from natural sources and removes the demand for the fossil fuels. Toothbrushes made from cellulose will prove to be the most eco-friendly out of all.
- Toothbrushes with vegetable-based nylon bristles: toothbrushes that have bristles made from vegetable based nylon are environmentally friendly. As compared to the synthetic nylon, they are somewhat biodegradable and are decomposed faster than the other options.
- Chew Sticks: chew sticks eliminate the use of toothbrushes altogether. Sticks from eucalyptus or any other tree that have antibacterial properties can be used as an alternative to toothbrush.
What does research say about toothbrush biodegradation?
Several scientific researches support the concept of toothbrush being non-biodegradable. According to research, it takes almost 500 years or more for a plastic toothbrush to decompose. Almost 3.5 billion plastic toothbrushes are sold each year and most of them end up in landfills.
Plastic and nylon are not natural products, in fact they are synthetic in nature. Anything that is synthetic either takes several hundred years to be decomposed naturally or never get decomposed. The conventional toothbrushes no matter how easily they can be purchased or disposed, the long term effect they have on the environment is horrible. Most of these toothbrushes end up in oceans and waterways.
A similar case has been observed for boar-bristles toothbrushes and bamboo toothbrushes. Despite being more environmentally friendly they take several decades to get biodegraded. Boar-bristles toothbrushes take up to 50-100 years to be decomposed naturally while the bamboo toothbrush takes almost 10 years to decompose completely.
Are toothbrushes recyclable?
No, toothbrushes are not recyclable. Plastic toothbrushes are not recyclable because the composite plastic used to make them doesn’t break down quickly enough, causing fragments to become stuck in recycling equipment. They also shouldn’t be thrown away in the recycle bin because they will not fit into the machine.
Frequently Asked Question. “Is toothbrush biodegradable?”
How much waste is generated by plastic toothbrush annually?
One billion plastic brushes are thrown annually each year in America, generating 50 million pounds of plastic waste each year. On the other hand in the UK 264 million brushes are thrown each year. To sum it all up, almost 23 billion toothbrushes are trashed each year.
Why plastics in toothbrushes cannot be decomposed?
Plastic is composed of synthetic materials and this prevents it from being decomposed naturally. However, nature does try to decompose the plastic but when it happens it shrinks and releases harmful substances in the environment. These shrunken bits of plastics are known as microplastics. These plastics harm aquatic life the most as they are ingested by the fishes.
How to properly dispose of a toothbrush?
Over the years, people who are cautious about the environment are questioning and finding ways to dispose of plastic toothbrushes properly. Several companies are now coming to where one can send their used toothbrushes and they will break down the plastic properly to be used in pavers and park benches.
Are electric toothbrushes recyclable?
No, electric toothbrushes are not recyclable. Electric toothbrushes are made up of batteries, plastics and other electrical material and they cannot always be recycled altogether. However, individually they do pose the possibility of being recycled. For instance batteries can be separately recycled and used.
How exactly are toothbrushes impacting the environment?
Toothbrushes pose several environmental implications such as:
- Adding to the landfills: several million toothbrushes are being tossed in the waste bins annually because they are not prone to decomposition, they simply increase the land pollution.
- Ending in the ocean: most of the toothbrushes also end up in the ocean and waterways until they are washed off by the flood. Once they are washed off by the flood, they end up returning back to the environment.
How to make plastic toothbrushes environmentally friendly?
Even though toothbrushes cannot be recycled, they can be reused several times, such as:
- Toothbrush can act as cleaners, they can clean places which are extremely narrow, surfaces such as desks, shoes, tiles etc.
- Toothbrush can be used as a comb. They can be used to comb eyebrow hair and hair edges.
- Toothbrush can be used to apply hair dye. Because of its fine bristles, toothbrushes can be used for hair dyeing.
- Toothbrush can be used for arts and paintings. Toothbrushes can be used to add textures to pottery and paintings.
- Toothbrush can be an effective jewelry cleaner because of its bristles it can clean the dust between the stones and tricky areas.
- Toothbrush can be used to clean blinds and windows.
- Toothbrush can be used to clean computer laptop and hardwares.
- Toothbrush can be used to remove sticky marks on the wall.
Are all eco-friendly toothbrushes environmentally friendly?
No, not all eco-friendly toothbrushes are environmentally friendly. In the case of bamboo toothbrushes the bristles are made from nylon which are non-biodegradable in nature. The bamboo will biodegrade but the nylon fibers will remain unaffected for several hundred years because of its composition. A lot of companies who claim they produce environmental friendly toothbrushes are not transparent when it comes to the making of toothbrushes so there is always an uncertainty that the products used to make eco-friendly toothbrushes are environmental friendly or not. It is crucial for the companies to be extremely transparent with their clients when it comes to the making of the product. Some of the brands promoting eco-friendly toothbrushes are:
- Brush with bamboo’s
- The humble co.
- Life without plastic
- Me mother earth
- Battle green
All of these companies are striving hard to make toothbrushes which are environmentally friendly and pose very less threat to the environment. Out of all these companies radius is striving very hard to make toothbrushes which are completely biodegradable including their bristles. Their bristles are made up of vegetable nylon and the handles are made from compostable materials. So once their toothbrushes have been discarded, they will not be detrimental to the environment.
- Acosta, A. (2018, October 10). The impact your toothbrush has on the environment is bigger than you think. The Telescope. Retrieved From
- Erskine, E. (2018). Plastic Toothbrushes Add 50 Million Pounds of Waste to Landfills Every Year!. OneGreenPlanet. Retrieved From
- Borunda, A. (2019, June 14). How your toothbrush became a part of the plastic crisis. National Geographic. Retrieved from
- Kmetz, Barbara; Magyar, Balázs; Szabó, Ferenc J. Design of Machines and Structures; Miskolc Vol. 8, Iss. 2, (2018): 19-29.