Action 4. Buy a more sustainable toothbrush.

Toothbrushes. Sigh. I wonder if Im the only person crazy enough that the thought of toothbrushes keeps them up at night? Well, it’s that or wondering what will happen next on Downton Abby. Im not sure which is a worse 3am thought pattern.

Anyway, toothbrushes annoy the crap out of me, because they are one of the countless disposable items that just seem like, well, there is no reason they should be filling up our landfills. Seems trivial, right? Well let’s do a simple math exercise and see.

According to this website, about a third of Americans use an electric toothbrush (probably more now since that data is pretty old; more on electrics later), so let’s be conservative and account for more electric users, and maybe discount a few more percents for pre-teeth babies. So, let’s say 50% of our roughly 314 million Americans are using a non-electric brush, and let’s assume they go through 4 of those a year. By my math, 50%*314,000,000*4= 628 million toothbrushes a year. A couple other estimates around the web suggest in the neighborhood of 450 to 500 million. In any case- Holy Hat!! And that’s just in this country alone!

Ok, so the other obvious question is, how do toothbrushes relate to climate change? They relate with respect to a couple different aspects of the toothbrush lifecycle. There’s the fact that most of them are made out of petroleum-based plastics, so we’ve got a product that is part of the fossil-fuel economy, and then we’ve got the issue of landfilling them- a lot of them- on the disposal end, and landfills make a huge contribution to carbon emissions in this country. And that’s when they end up in the appropriate place, instead of all the other places they might end up, like in the stomachs of pelagic seabirds.* Sigh.

I know, toothbrushes are probably a small component of of our total waste stream. But, as I was saying, several hundred million of them a year is nothing to sneeze at.

So what are the alternatives? With the help of my friends at Trash Backwards (I am sure you will be hearing frequently about this wonderful resource in my posts!) and some googling, I found a couple of alternatives. You can buy a Preserve toothbrush, which is both made of recycled plastic and can be recycled (the manufacturer provides a package for you to send it back for recycling). You can also go with a wooden or bamboo toothbrush, which are compostable, if you live in a place that offers such a service (I have no idea if they would break down in your backyard compost, there’s an experiment worth trying!). And there is a brand new biodegradable toothbrush made right here in the USA, the bogobrush, which is pricey at $10 a brush but, I have to say, is a darned pretty toothbrush, and the family making it are also making a commitment to donate a toothbrush to folks who need one for every one that is sold. That’s pretty cool.

ALL that being said, right now these toothbrushes are for my daughter, who does not use an electric toothbrush, and for guests. My husband and I both use electric toothbrushes, and yes, this is another thing that keeps me up at night. I can’t begin to tell you the walls I have run into in trying to figure out how to recycle those things when they die, and of course there is the issue of the head disposal… ugh. And should I even use one, or should I revert to a biodegradable one, trusting that I will use enough good hygienic technique that I don’t need an electric? Oy. That’s just a whole ‘nother subject that maybe I need to save for another Action.

So, perhaps more about toothbrushes than any of us wanted to know. But maybe I can get some more sleep now that Ive thought this through. Or at least focus my obsessions back on Downton Abby.

*If you’ve never visited Chris Jordan’s site, I highly recommend it. He’s an incredible Seattle-based artists that visually documents our consumption patterns in startling and incredible ways. This site would give anybody plenty to think about at 3am!

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