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An Unsung Source of Garbage: Toothbrushes.

December 29, 2008

People go through way too many toothbrushes.  This came to my attention earlier today when I was looking for a shower-safe hair stick (besides a disposable razor) and I realized that we had a bunch of used toothbrushes sitting around.  Now, around my house we never throw toothbrushes away (unless a dog chews them up) — we save them and use them for cleaning brushes.

But not everyone is going to do this.  And how many cleaning brushes does one house honestly need?

Consider the process here.  First, you go out and buy a toothbrush for yourself (and possibly the rest of your family).  The toothbrush comes in a little plastic package, sometimes with a cardboard backing, that you throw away immediately.  You use the toothbrush.  Six months later, assuming you follow the reccommendation of the American Dental Association, you throw the toothbrush away.

Now consider that nearly everyone in the United States of America – over three hundred million people – will be doing this each year.  If everyone were to do what the ADA suggests and buy a new toothbrush every six months, that’s nearly three hundred million toothbrushes going into the garbage with each renewal — taking into account the few that people save.  That makes close to six hundred million toothbrushes going into the garbage each year.  That is also more than six hundred million plastic toothbrush packages going into the garbage in a year.

But what are you going to do about it?  Toothbrushes are a single-use item; even if you disregard the ADA’s advice and continue using your toothbrush until it’s completely worn out, you’re still going to be tossing at least one toothbrush a year (an average of seventy in your lifetime, assuming that you keep your teeth all that time; three hundred and fifty for a family of five.)

But what are you going to do about it?

The obvious answer, of course, is to recycle your toothbrushes.  Preserve, a manufacturer of toothbrushes from recycled materials, has a system that enables you to return your brushes for further recycling.  But suppose you don’t want to be constantly shipping toothbrushes — what then?  Most recycling centers don’t exactly have a “toothbrush” bin.  I’m not sure that they’d know what to do with toothbrushes even if you brought them.

In that case, all you can do is reuse them.  Clean your dead ones and keep them around for cleaning, crafting, and makeup application.  Full up on those?  Some people make their toothbrushes into jewelry.  Or you could do like I did: pull out the bristles (use piers) and use them to hold your hair up in the shower or bath.  It’s both more economical and more eco-friendly than buying bath caps.  YouTube has some lovely videos on how to use hair sticks.  (Of course, putting up your hair isn’t limited to the shower; you can do it anywhere you like.)

Or you can simply eliminate the mess.  Some companies offer toothbrushes with replaceable heads, eliminating up to nine-tenths of the plastic waste.  Or you can buy a completely biodegradable wooden toothbrush.  These do tend to be pricier than the typical plastic toothbrush, but what are you going to do?  Besides contributing to the hundreds of millions of toothbrushes getting chucked each year, anyway.

It’s your choice, but remember: you only get one planet.  What will you do with yours?

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