When looking through your home, doing the weekly shop, seeing litter everywhere you go, it makes trying to reduce your plastic seem overwhelming and pointless.
But we all have to start somewhere so why not a plastic free, bamboo toothbrush?
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Toothbrushes may not seem like a big change but given that we are supposed to replace our toothbrushes every 3-4 months (depending how fast the bristles get worn out) the plastic waste starts to add up.
Let’s say we take really good care of them and use 3 a year. The NHS says you can start brushing as soon as you have teeth, so let’s say the age of 1. The average life expectancy in the U.K. is currently about 80 years (90 if you’re born today).
If we do the math you will use between 237 and 316 toothbrushes in your lifetime.
The population of the U.K. in 2018 was 66.4 million.
That translates into a whopping 15,736,800,000 toothbrushes over the lifetimes of the 2018 U.K. population alone!
Maybe changing your toothbrush is a big deal after all.
Is bamboo a sustainable material?
Bamboo is actually a grass and not wood, but is strong like a soft wood. It also grows crazy fast with some of the fastest species growing 3 feet in a day!
These attributes make bamboo a sustainable material that is incredibly useful for items like toothbrushes.
Do bamboo toothbrushes have plastic bristles? Isn’t that bad?
Yes and No.
Toothbrushes generally use nylon which is a synthetic (plastic) material that is gentler on your gums than the alternative which is boars hair.
Boars hair is courser and can damage gums and is not an animal friendly alternative as the hair is often a by product of the meat industry.
So generally, nylon is the best option at the moment.
Caring for your bamboo toothbrush.
It my seem scary to make the switch as a lot of you may be wondering, will my plastic free toothbrush get mouldy? Will there be more germs? Will my bamboo toothbrush last as long as my regular brush?
Caring for your toothbrush is simple.
Ideally, with any toothbrush you want to make sure you rinse any food or left over toothpaste off the bristles. But the one extra step you should take when you switch to bamboo is drying your toothbrush off after you use it.
Germs like moist areas so as long as your toothbrush (no matter what kind you use) is dry between uses, the germs won’t be a problem.
By drying your bamboo toothbrush you help prevent mould from developing on the handle.
I leave my family’s toothbrushes on the side of the sink with the bristles hanging down over the sink so the water runs away from the brush heads. The next time I go into the bathroom they are usually dry enough to put in my toothbrush holder a.k.a. ceramic cup.
How do I dispose of my bamboo toothbrush?
When you are finished with your toothbrush, don’t just throw it away.
You made the switch to do something better for the environment, so get your toothbrush to the right place.
First, try repurposing the toothbrushes. Toothbrushes are great for cleaning grout, cheese graters and for cleaning jewellery.
Once you have used up their second life, you’ll need to remove the bristles. Yank them out with some pliers and those will go in the bin to landfill as they are too small for recycling.
You can try putting them inside a plastic bottle that you are recycling, but it’s best to check with your council as we don’t want to be responsible for contaminating batches of recycling.
The handles alone can be repurposed for example, as labels for herbs in your garden or markers for your veggie patch.
But if your bamboo toothbrush is done serving its purpose, then compost it.
If you just toss it in your garden, it can take 5-10 years to break down, less if you cut into small pieces first.
If you have a composter then the breakdown process is much less. Typically 4-6 months if you cut it into pieces first.
If you don’t have composting capabilities in your home then check with your council to see if the handles can be thrown in with your garden waste bins. I am waiting to hear back from mine and will update you as soon as I know.
So that’s your toothbrush sorted, what about toothpaste?
Toothpaste has moved away from the aluminium tubes of yesteryear in favour of plastic tubes that can’t be recycled.
This seems bonkers looking at it now, but I’m guessing the plastic was a lighter material or maybe cheaper as there is no other reason for the switch.
Colgate is pretty proud of itself for introducing the first recyclable plastic toothpaste tube, but the truth is, yes it’s better than tubes you can’t recycle and better if you have no other option, but anyone who follows the plastic crisis knows that we can’t recycle our way out of plastic.
So what are your options?
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Flouride or no fluoride?
The NHS recommends using a fluoride toothpaste with a 1300-1500ppm concentration. The fluoride protects the enamel on your teeth and helps prevent tooth decay.
I grew up in California and our water was fluorinated. My dentist even had us taking fluoride tablets as a kid! But my brother, sister, and I all did what our dentist recommended and none of us have had a cavity.
So is non-fluoride toothpaste bad?
It’s not bad per se but it won’t give your teeth the extra protection from the demineralization that causes tooth decay.
But as a cleaning agent and disruptor of plaque formation any toothpaste, including no toothpaste will do, according to Dr. David Okano a periodontist with 30 years of experience.
According to Dr. Okano just the action of brushing your teeth and flossing is enough to “disrupts[s] the dental plaque that ultimately leads to tooth decay and gum disease.” Sure you won’t have the fresh breath, but your teeth will be clean.
But if you want to protect your teeth over the long term, only fluoride can do that.
It will be your decision, but please consult your dentist if you make the switch and have them monitor the health of your teeth.
Now for the important bit.
Plastic Free Toothpaste
Does plastic free toothpaste exist?
Do beware that moving towards more natural toothpastes means you won’t have the SLSs in them which are the foaming agents, so the feel will be different from shop bought toothpastes.
How do you use toothpaste tablets and powders?
Toothpaste tablets are pretty simple.
You pop them into your mouth and chew them. As they moisten and turn into a paste, put your toothbrush in and start moving it onto your teeth.
I have seen some people grind up the tablets and can then have more control over the amount of product they use.
For shop bought toothpaste a pea size amount is all that is recommended for fluoride toothpaste, (less for children under 3) which means you don’t need a lot of any product to clean your teeth.
For powder toothpaste, I have found it’s easiest to wet your toothbrush and scoop a small amount from the jar onto the bristles and then start brushing.
By scooping the powder out dry, you keep the tooth powder from being contaminated.
Denttabs (Plastic Free Fluoride Toothpaste, Non-Fluoride Available as Well)
Denttabs come in a corn starch bag that can be composted when empty.
The tabs need to be chewed into a paste and then you brush as normal.
There’s enough tabs to last one person two months.
They are made in Germany so the carbon footprint may be a bit higher with, but the balance is the no plastic waste.
SaveSomeGreen ToothTabs (Plastic Free Fluoride Toothpaste)
Ok, so these are chew and brush tabs, but they contain fluoride which is pretty tough to find.
They come in a cute little tin and are shipped in paper-based packaging.
When you finish the first round you can simply buy a refill the next month and save a quid. It seems reasonably priced when you are buying for one person but you will need to buy a pack for each brushing person in your house assuming everyone brushes twice a day.
You can order a 6 month supply which would be enough for two months for 3 people.
These tooth tabs are a great find for those wanting fluoride.
Ecoliving Toothpaste Tablets (Plastic Free, Fluoride, Non-Fluoride available)Ecoliving’s tablets also come in a cute little tin with refills available. They are U.K. based, contain no palm oil, but has the same amount of fluoride as regular toothpastes. If you buy their plant-based floss Ecoliving plants a tree through the Eden Reforestation projects.
Georganics Natural Toothpaste (Plastic Free Non-Fluoride Toothpaste)Georganics makes the dental floss I love so their toothpaste would be a good place to start if you want a fluoride-free toothpaste. They also make kids specific flavours. The paste comes in a glass jar in a box and has a bamboo spatula for scooping out the paste without contaminating the contents. One jar lasts one person 4 weeks so again can get pricey if you compare it to commercial brands in plastic tubes. This company is also U.K. based and has a Zero to Landfill scheme where you can send back items that can’t be recycled by your local council and they will dispose of it for you.
TruthPaste (Plastic Free Non-Fluoride Toothpaste)
Still a paste, so no chewing tabs here. Just dip a dry toothbrush or scoop a pea-sized amount and brush as normal. They also have a couple of children flavoured versions as well.
The packaging is a cute jar which can easily be reused or recycled.
The product itself is made in the U.K and they do not test on animals.
The price is reasonable when compared to commercial toothpastes and depending how much you use can last 2-4 months.
Metal Tubes Toothpaste
There are toothpastes available in metal tubes which are recyclable but tough to find cost-effective and environmentally-friendly.
However I will mention a few so you can have a look.
Goodwell Co. has a non-fluoride toothpaste but ships from the U.S. (aka expensive).
Aesop also has a non-fluoride toothpaste in a metal tube but in all honesty it’s pricey, too.
Marvis has toothpastes in metal tubes as well but, if you are trying to avoid ingredients like SLSs then this won’t be the one for you.
Finding a suitable toothpaste may be tricky, but a bamboo toothbrush is simple.
Let me know if you have found success with your toothbrush and toothpaste and if you found other alternatives you like in the comments below.
Hopefully, you found enough to get you started and you can click to read about other Easy Plastic Free Swaps in your Bathroom.