Most bamboo toothbrush bristles are made from nylon, which is a synthetic, flexible plastic material. Unfortunately, this means that the bristle part of the toothbrush is not biodegradable and does still create some negative environmental impact.
How do you dispose of non biodegradable bristles?
All you have to do is separate the handle from the bristles, with the bristles needing to be thrown out in a normal bin and the handle to be composted or reused in other ways. There is a whole detailed blogpost about how to properly dispose of your bamboo toothbrush here, so make sure to check it out. It will also give you tips and tricks on how to repurpose your toothbrush without needing to throw it again.
Why are bamboo toothbrush bristles made from nylon?
Unfortunately for now, it is the best material for the job. It seemingly does not make sense that bamboo toothbrushes that have been hailed as the plastic free, eco friendly alternative to traditional plastic toothbrushes have plastic bristles. Nylon has been the chosen material for toothbrush bristles since the second world war when DuPont decided to replace animal bristles. By February 24th, 1939 toothbrushes with nylon bristles went on sale to the general public. The reason nylon was such a popular material for bristles is because unlike animal bristles, it did not retain bacteria, it was relatively cheap, and nylon is extremely durable while being flexible.
What were bristles made from before nylon?
The first bristle toothbrush that resembles the toothbrushes we are used to seeing on every bathroom sink was found in China from the Tang Dynasty which stretched from 619-907. They were typically bamboo or bone handles, with hog bristles attached to them. The hog bristles were sourced from hogs living in Siberia and Northern China. This is because the colder temperatures in those areas meant the hogs had thicker coats and therefore could provide firmer bristles. The idea of bristled toothbrushes, in general, did not reach Europe until much later and spread from China thanks to a Japanese Zen master in 1223. He had spotted monks cleaning their teeth with clumps of horsehair attached to oxbone handles. This knowledge then journeyed far across the continent all the way to Europe by the way of travellers where it was commonly adopted in the 17th century.
The earliest bristle toothbrush in Europe
The word ‘toothbrush’ in English was first written down by Anthony Wood in his autobiography published in 1690. He had written that he bought a toothbrush from J. Barret, which must have been a prominent toothbrush salesman of his time. At this point, china had been exporting their hog hair toothbrushes to Europe however majority of the market preferred the softer alternatives of horsehair brushes. Potentially this was the first precursor of the hard vs soft toothbrush markings we see in the supermarkets in modern days. China remained a toothbrush exporter with their pass produced toothbrushes well into the 20th century.
The first mass-produced toothbrush in the UK
England on the other hand, created their own mass-produced toothbrushes much later in 1780. This was all due to one man, William Addis who had been jailed for causing a riot. When in jail, he must have had too much time and decided that using a rag, soot, and salt on his teeth was not an effective method of cleaning his teeth as he had wished. He decided to keep a meat bone from one of the dinners and managed to get bristles from a guard. Then he drilled holes in the bone and poked the tufts of bristles through to create a prison style, yet fairly advanced for his time, toothbrush. When he was released from prison, he started a toothbrush manufacturing business which brought him many riches and a company which remained under family ownership until 1996. Now Wisdom Toothbrushes manufacture around 70,000 million toothbrushes per year all thanks to one mans ingenuity.
What did humans use before toothbrushes?
While oral hygiene in the prehistoric times was certainly not as sophisticated as it is today, various instruments were used to keep our ancestor’s teeth clean. If you have ever had a pet dog or cat, you might have seen them happily chewing on bones or sticks which acted as a method for cleaning their teeth. Prior to any fancy toothbrush contraptions, humans simply used a variety of options such as tree twigs, feathers, porcupine quills, animal bones. These are theories based on items have all been found in excavations, since no written word exists from so long ago.
The first Oral Hygeine device : Chew Sticks
The first chew sticks were discovered and dated back to ancient Mesopotamia in 3500BC, along with in Chinese records at 1600BC. The Greeks and romans also documented using toothpick like twigs to get food out of their teeth. Many such utensils were found during the excavation of tombs from the Qin Dynasty from China during the years of 221 – 206BC. Chew sticks are still common in some areas of Africa, southern United states, and in the Islamic world. It sometimes shows that the ancient, tried and tested methods can still be a good option.
What biodegradable options exist for toothbrush bristles?
If we take inspiration from history, then we clearly see that the biodegradable options most easily available to us are animal hair bristles. However, most modern users and animal activists argue that animal bristles are not an acceptable alternative. This is due to the combination that animal hair does accrue bacteria which cannot be good for the health of our teeth, gums, or tongue. Another reason is many people who opt for environmentally friendly bamboo toothbrushes tend to be environmentally conscious and compassionate to animals. These people believe that using animal products when there are other alternatives is not an option. Some people do argue that hog bristles are a by product of the pork industry, therefore finding uses for them would be a more sustainable option, meaning there are companies out there who do still provide toothbrushes with hog bristles around.
Is there biodegradable nylon?
There are some eco-friendly bamboo toothbrush companies which claim that their bamboo toothbrush bristles are biodegradable since they use the material nylon 4 as opposed to nylon 6. A my plastic free life shares, nylon 4 is apetroleum based plastic that has been shown in lab studies to biodegrade under certain environmental conditions. This has caused many companies to jump on the bandwagon to claim biodegradability for these petroleum-based bristles. Unfortunately, even nylon 4 will not biodegrade in your backyard compost. This is one of the items, such as many biodegradable bags, which require commercial composters for degradation to occur. As opposed to home composters that have uncertain temperature and microorganism conditions, commercial composters tend to reach much higher heats and are heavily regulated for oxygen flows and microorganism activity. In industrial composters, materials such as nylon 4 can biodegrade. Even under these conditions, the material is still petroleum-based and therefore would not biodegrade without pollution or harmful impacts on the surrounding environment
What about partially biodegradable bristles?
Some companies have continued the search for eco-friendly alternatives and have found that some bristles can be made up of up to 62% castor bean oil. This does not mean the bristles are biodegradable, however, they have a much larger biobased and contain a smaller amount of petroleum-based plastic. It is always a victory to eliminate any plastic from our lives that may be harmful to our health, the planet, and the oceans.
Is getting a bamboo toothbrush worth it?
Yes. considering that most bamboo toothbrush bristles are made out of plastic, it is still worth spending the energy to opt for a bamboo toothbrush instead. Every little piece of plastic that is stopped from going into the natural world, is a little piece of plastic that will not end up in the belly of a whale or baby turtle. Every small step towards an environmentally friendly life is a victory and you can be part of the solution. Another great thing about voting with your dollar for eco friendly alternatives for day to day items such as toothbrushes, is that the market will follow the demand. If you keep buying bamboo toothbrushes, it only makes sense that more companies will spend time investing in manufacturing and finding out new ways to create eco friendly alternatives. Afterall, if someone finds a way to make biodegradable bristles most environmentalists will flock to them.
What bamboo toothbrush should you pick?
Why not minimise your hassle about worrying about your toothbrushes by simply signing up to get the required amount for your family delivered to your doorstep. Colour coded, eco-friendly, stylish, and made from one of the most renewable resources in the world; bamboo toothbrushes are certainly the way of the future.