The Dirty Truth: How Much Toothbrushes Really Contribute to Pollution (2024) - SWOP - shop without plastic

The Dirty Truth: How Much Toothbrushes Really Contribute to Pollution (2024)

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How important is brushing your teeth for you?

What a strange question to ask, right? Brushing our teeth is such an essential part of our daily routine that we don't really think about it.

Oral hygiene is a crucial aspect of overall well-being and all of us (hopefully) brush our teeth twice a day.

But have you ever thought about what happens to your toothbrush after you throw it away?

Or have you ever wondered how toothbrushes are produced and if the plastic you chew on alll the time could be harmful? 

Find out in this article!

In our new series "The Dirty Truth", we explore everyday items and the role they play in the big theme of pollution. 

Today: Toothbrushes.

We'll unpack plastic toothbrushes for you. The production, the usage, and the disposal. Finally, we have great natural alternatives for you.  


Toothbrushes in Numbers

It is estimated that one billion toothbrushes are thrown away used in the U.S. every single year.

Globally that amounts to 23 billion.

On average we individually use 300 toothbrushes in our lifetime. After all, dentists recommend that we replace our toothbrush every three to four months. 

Most of those toothbrushes will be made from single use plastic. 

To understand the environmental impact, let's first understand what these plastic toothbrushes are made of.


Toothbrush Production

Toothbrushes contain two main components, the handle and the bristles.

Historically, toothbrushes were made from animal bones for the handle and animal hair for the bristles.

However, modern toothbrushes mainly rely on plastic.

The handle is usually made from Polypropylene, often with a rubber component to it. Most bristles are made of Nylon.

Both plastics rely on non-renewable fossil fuels and emit potent greenhouse gases during production.

In fact, the whole plastic supply chain has been criticised for its terrible impact on nature. A lot of environmentally harmful steps happen, before you hold your toothbrush in your hands.

Starting with the extraction of natural gas and crude oil, plastic production also relies on chemical processes, such as polymerization and ethane cracking.

It uses harmful substances like terephthalic acid and ethylene glycol. These chemicals, along with catalysts like antimony, toxic emissions like nickel, ethylbenzene, ethylene oxide, and benzene, and byproducts like acetaldehyde, pose serious health risks to humans.

Environmental consequences include air and water pollution, soil contamination, and threats to ecosystems and humans.

If that weren't enough, plastic production emits 2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases annually which is approximately 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

If you're interested in more detail about the dangers of plastic production, check out the first article in our "Dirty Truth" Series here!


Toothbrush Usage

While dentists advocate for regular toothbrush use, traditional plastic raise health concerns.

The petroleum-based materials in toothbrushes may expose users to potential health risks. After all, you are rubbing plastic against your teeth daily.

It is hard to find detailed studies on the health impact of plastic toothbrushes and the topic needs to be explored futher.

Nonetheless, some sources show that plastic toothbrushes are a potential health hazard. The main two reasons for that are:

  • plastic bristles are a potential breeding ground for bacteria, funghi and microbes
  • some toothbrushes may contain synthetic chemicals like BPA linked to health issues like cancer, hormone disruption, and heart diseases.
  • the mechanic abrasion from brushing teeth can release microplastics, which cause many health issues when entering your body.

Check out our article about microplastics in the human body and its effects for more details.

Luckily, there are many different alternatives available that limit your exposure to harmful plastic. But before that, let's look at the impact after your plastic toothbrush has reached its end of life.


Toothbrush Disposal


Considering the sheer volume of 23 billion toothbrushes discarded annually, it is hard to grasp the environmental impact.

Assuming 20 grams per toothbrush, envision the weight of more than 3400 Boeing 777 in toothbrushes being thrown away every year.

Unfortunately only a small percentage of toothbrushes are ever recycled and most of them end up on the landfill or even in nature.

Plastic toothbrushes are one of the items that take the longest to disintegrate. On average it can take more than 500 years to break down.

That means every toothbrush ever created is still in existence and will be for your grand grand grand children.

The even worse part is that many toothbrushes end up in our waterways, because of flawed waste management and littering. Nothing describes the impact better than the devastating experience of a researcher on a remote pacific island.

 “I remember seeing an adult come back to feed its chick, and it was having a really hard time regurgitating something,[...] Then it regurgitated a toothbrush — and the chick ate it,” she said. “It’s awful but actually happens here quite a bit.”


The concerned founder of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii tells a similar story.

It is not uncommon to pick up 20 or more toothbrushes during a single beach cleanup.

We've seen that the envrionmental impact of plastic toothbrushes is staggering.

  • plastic production releases toxins and produces significant greenhouse gases
  • the usage is a potential source for microplastic and chemicals exposure,
  • their disposal is polluting our ecosystems and killing wildlife 

 It's about time we explore eco-friendly alternatives and make the switch!


Eco-Friendly Alternatives

Depending on your preference, there are fantastic options available that reduce your environmental impact and reduce your health risk from plastic toothbrushes.

All of them come with a Bamboo handle. Bamboo is a fascinating material that beats plastic by a landslide when it comes to sustainability and health.


 1. Bamboo Toothbrush With Horse Hair Bristles

bamboo toothbrush with horse hair bristles


This truly a zero plastic option. The handle is crafted from sustainable bamboo and the bristles are made from steryized horse hair. 

The horse hair comes from cruelty-free sources in Monglia and you can rest assured that no horse had to die for it.

In fact, horse hair has a long standing tradition in Mongolian Nomad families and has been used for centuries in craftsmanship.


2. Bamboo Toothbrush With Three Different Bristle Options


bamboo toothbrush with charcoal bristles
If you're looking for a vegan option, you can still drastically reduce your plasic footprint by opting for a bamboo toothbrush with one of three bristle options:
Charcoal Fibre Bristles: the bristles are made of charcoal fibre and recyclable nylon for extra anti microbial properties. The antibacterial charcoal prevents germ buildup and keeps your toothbrush clean longer.
Castor Bean Oil Bristles: these bristles are plant-based and limit your plastic exposure even further. They are derived from the Castor Bean plant and have a smaller carbon footprint than nylon bristles.
    Nano Bristles: these super soft nano bristles are perfect for sensitive teeth. Hundrets of thin bristles made of recyclable nylon form a soft surface.

    We All Have a Voice - Let's Use It!

    In the fight against plastic pollution, we all have a voice. 

    By voting with our wallets, we can force more producers to offer sustainable options. Toothbrushes are not an exception for that.

    Let's all make the switch today and replace our plastic toothbrush with one made of bamboo!


    We hope you enjoyed this article. If you want to read more like this, make sure to check out our Blog and follow us on Instagram. If you are interested in truly sustainable products, check out our Shop. 

    If you want to engage in the discussion, feel free to leave a comment below.

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