You brush your teeth when you wake up in the morning and again before you go to bed at night. And maybe you brush before leaving home for an evening out, after a spicy lunch, or before an important work meeting. When you consider how much work you put your toothbrush through, it's no wonder it wears out so quickly.
The American Dental Association recommends you replace your toothbrush every three to four months, or more often if the bristles are visibly frayed. But throwing all of those toothbrushes in the trash adds up to a lot of waste. So, are toothbrushes recyclable?
Toothbrushes and the Environment
According to National Geographic, Americans will throw away 1 billion toothbrushes this year. If you laid those toothbrushes end to end, they would wrap around the Earth four times. And because most toothbrushes are made from plastic, they don't break down and often leave complicated environmental footprints.
In fact, it's likely that every plastic toothbrush ever produced still exists. Yours could be sitting in a landfill, floating in the ocean, or washed up on a beach.
What Are Toothbrushes Made Of?
The toothbrushes we use today look modern, thanks to their neon colors and sleek designs, but not much about toothbrush design has changed since the 1930s. According to the Library of Congress, the first toothbrush with nylon bristles was introduced in 1938. Until then, toothbrushes were made with coarse bristles taken from the back of a boar's neck.
While boar-bristle toothbrushes had handles made of bone or bamboo, modern toothbrush handles are made almost entirely of plastic. Some toothbrush companies have started to experiment with plant-based plastics. The handle of the Tom's of Maine Naturally Clean Soft-Bristle Toothbrush is made from renewable castor oil plants and is recyclable through the TerraCycle collection program. One benefit to bioplastics is that their sources are renewable and sustainable.
Are Toothbrushes Recyclable?
National Geographic explains that plastic toothbrushes aren't recyclable because the composite plastic used to create them doesn't break apart efficiently, and chunks get stuck in recycling machinery. Because your plastic toothbrush likely isn't recyclable, you might be tempted to keep yours for more than the recommended three to four months.
Don't. Using a toothbrush past its recommended life span could be detrimental to your oral health. Luckily, there are innovative programs you can take advantage of to feel better about your discarded toothbrushes.
How to Dispose of Toothbrushes
Recycling with the Tom's of Maine Natural Care Recycling Program, a partnership with TerraCycle, is an easy way to recycle your household items that aren't accepted by traditional curbside recycling programs—such as toothbrushes and other personal care products. By sending your used toothbrushes to TerraCycle, you can prevent them from winding up in an incinerator or landfill. TerraCycle breaks down the plastic waste and turns it into useful products, such as pavers and park benches.
If you're looking to go even further, express to manufacturers your desire for a more sustainable toothbrush option. Tom's of Maine recently announced a fully recyclable toothpaste tube, which is slated to hit the market by 2020. Could a recyclable toothbrush be far behind?
Do you send any of your hard-to-recycle materials to TerraCycle? Share your photos with us by tagging @toms_of_maine on Instagram!
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Why It's Good
The world is still waiting for a fully recyclable toothbrush. In the meantime, you can choose to use brushes made from bioplastics and recycle them through alternative programs. You can reduce your effect on the environment without sacrificing your oral health!