The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 8, 2015

The Truth About Your Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrush

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bamboo-toothbrushesThere’s no perfect toothbrush, but some toothbrushes are less perfect than others, and sadly, a few of them aren’t even what they claim to be.  Here are a few disappointing facts I have learned recently about other companies’ toothbrushes.

 

Fully Compostable = Animal-Based

Right now, the only completely compostable toothbrush has a handle made from sustainably harvested wood and  bristles made from pig hair.  The pig hair is a by-product of the Chinese meat industry.  It would normally have been thrown away.  If you eat meat, perhaps this toothbrush would be the right decision for you.  I personally have chosen not to use it because the only meat I eat comes from humanely raised animals from local farms in Sonoma or Marin Counties.  Since I don’t know how the Chinese pigs are treated, I don’t feel comfortable using their bristles for a toothbrush.  Perhaps one of the local pig farms out here could team up with a toothbrush manufacturer to develop a toothbrush I’d be more likely to trust.

(If I were going to purchase a pig hair toothbrush, I would buy this one from Life Without Plastic because I trust the company and its owners.  If you purchase via any of the links in this post, My Plastic-Free Life receives a small commission to support its mission.)

What About Nylon-4?

Several toothbrush manufacturers claim that their bristles are made from Nylon-4, a petroleum-based plastic that has been shown in lab studies to biodegrade in the environment under certain conditions.  However, lab studies and real life are not the same thing, and none of these manufacturers has provided any third party proof that their toothbrush bristles actually will biodegrade, especially not in the cold waters of the ocean.  Furthermore, it is questionable whether all of them really contain Nylon-4 in the first place.

A-Hao collects plastic toothbrushes that have washed up on a beach in Taiwan.

A-Hao collects plastic toothbrushes that have washed up on a beach in Taiwan.

My friend, A-Hao, who owns a plastic-free products shop called Simple Eco Life in Taiwan, was selling a toothbrush called The Environmental Toothbrush, and she wanted to know if the bristles really were made from Nylon-4.  (I reviewed this toothbrush back in 2011.  At that time, the company’s website claimed the bristles were Nylon-4.  And while the site no longer contains that claim, it does still state that “Both the bamboo and bristles will biodegrade into soil, without pollution.”)  So A-Hao sent The Environmental Toothbrush to a lab in Taiwan to be tested.

Verdict:  The Environmental Toothbrush bristles are made from Nylon-6, not Nylon-4 as claimed.  Nylon-6 is not biodegradable, so the claim that they will biodegrade into soil without pollution is not true. Read the lab report here..

Be skeptical of toothbrush manufacturers that claim their bristles are made from Nylon-4 and ask to see the proof.  According to A-Hao, western companies often do not communicate directly with their Chinese manufacturers but through an agency.  It’s possible that they are being mislead by the agencies that set up the manufacturing partnerships.

Still, when confronted with the truth, companies should update their advertising language.  A-Hao sent the lab report to The Environmental Toothbrush company, and to date, they are still claiming their bristles are biodegradable without any kind of evidence to back up that claim.

Bristles Made from Bamboo?

Other companies claim that their bristles are made from bamboo.  One company in particular was advertising that their bristles were made from 100% bamboo and were fully biodegradable.  I received a sample of the toothbrush, and they seemed very much like Nylon to me.  Bea Johnson of The Zero Waste Home put them to the “burn test,” holding them to a match to see if they would melt or burn.  They melted just like plastic.  So, inspired by A-Hao, I sent a sample to a lab to be tested, and sure enough, the bristles were found to be polyester.

So why am I not mentioning the name of the toothbrush company or posting the test results here?  Because after I contacted the owner with the proof, he immediately changed the language on the website to indicate that the bristles are made from a BPA-free polymer and should be removed and thrown away before composting the handle.  He was shocked to learn that his manufacturer in China had lied to him.  I appreciate that kind of responsiveness, and since his website now reflects the truth about what he is selling, I don’t feel the need to call him out.  He even offered to reimburse me for the testing fee.

Okay then, how about Charcoal-Enhanced Bamboo Bristles?

There’s another bamboo toothbrush that I’ve seen carried by Whole Foods and other natural foods stores.  The text on the packaging claims that the bristles are made from charcoal-enhanced bamboo and that they are biodegradable.  I’m going to send that one for testing next.  I don’t believe the claims, and until I get the test results back, neither should you.  (I’ll update this page when I have more information.)

Partially Plant-Based Bristles

Brush with BambooBrush with Bamboo has just released an upgrade to their bamboo toothbrush, introducing bristles made from 62% castor bean oil.  The new bristles are not biodegradable, but they are certified bio-based and contain less petroleum-based plastic than other toothbrushes do.  I’ll have a complete review of the new toothbrush tomorrow.  I trust Brush with Bamboo because they don’t make claims they can’t support.

Bottom Line

unicornIt’s unfortunate that we can’t always believe claims on product labels and that ordinary consumers like me have to bear the expense of having products tested to find out the truth.  But unless companies actually monitor manufacturing operations overseas and do their own testing of the product materials, they really don’t know what materials their product contains, despite what the manufacturer tells them.  I’m guessing you could ask for a toothbrush made with unicorn horn bristles and find an overseas manufacturer to make it for you.  In fact, they probably breed the unicorns at their special farm behind the factory just for that very purpose.  Give them a call.  But wait, there’s much, much more.  They’ll throw in a ginsu knife if you act now.

 

 

 

 

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36 Comments on "The Truth About Your Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrush"

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I have vegan friendly and soon to be launching a paleo toothbrush if you will that will be animal based. The material would be wasted otherwise and so this is a good use of this. GaiaGuy dot com

brushnaked.com

The handle is bamboo, the bristles are PLA (polylactic acid) which is bio-degradable.

Hi, did you ever end up getting results back about the charcoal infused bristled brush? I just found this one in my health food shop and am too skeptical about their claims of 100% biodegradability. They seemed quite vague in their explanation of the material the bristles are made out of – “Eco enhanced nylon”. I would love your opinion.

Maybe this community needs to come up with an alternative bristle and make it ourselves. It seems a simple problem to come up with a compostable method of creating friction against the teeth. Maybe an alternative to straight, narrow bristles, maybe somethign more along the lines of a scouring pad.

You say you only eat humanly raised meat! But there is no such thing as humanly killing the animals you eat. Your kidding yourself!

Hi! Thanks for this article, the internet is full of misinformation about bamboo toothbrushes, it’s hard to know what is what. I’ve been struggling to find an oral hygien solution that works for me and the environment. I tried miswak and licorice chew sticks but found them difficult to use and not very pleasant. But I just found this German company that makes thin toothbrushes where the plant-based plastic-free composite handles are reusable long-term (then biodegradable) and the heads/bristles are made of miswak, replaceable and compostable. Looks quite nice. I just placed an order so I don’t know if they’re… Read more »

I don’t get the burning test. Polymerization of vegetable fiber does make the fiber act like plastic (thus, “melting” as oppose to burning).

The burning test would not distinguish one from another.

I know an Indian man from Kerala who had the most beautiful white teeth, with zero fillings. Like a lot of Indian people who seem on average to have much better teeth than Europeans. He said he grew up not using a toothbrush or toothpaste. Instead he said him and everyone he knew used the toothbrush tree and herbal pastes which they rubbed into their gums. Ayurvedic medicine is big on gum pastes. He felt that all the spices in Indian food probably also contributed to healthy teeth. Currently he chews on 3 or 4 cloves first thing in the… Read more »

Hello, I am from Mauritius and i just wonder how would i recycle my plastic toothbrushes since there are no recycling facilities for plastic toothbrush in here. Any suggestions? Thank you.

8 Lessons Learned From 4 Years Of Zero Waste Living | Treading My Own Path

[…] few weeks. When it came to disposal, I didn’t want those bristles ending up in my compost, ether. The bristles for many bamboo toothbrushes are currently plastic (despite what the companies might lead you to […]

This is the toothbrush our family has been using. Reading this post made me worried, because this company does claim to have bamboo bristles. I’m not one to do any official testing, but seeing the “burn test” you mentioned, I thought I’d give it a try. I pulled out one of the bristles, not wanting to waste the whole toothbrush, and it seemed to burn right up! Not sure if you’ve seen or tested these, but I’ve searched far and wide for a truly plastic-free toothbrush, and I’m hopeful about these.
http://www.boobalou.co.uk/product/bamboo-toothbrush-with-bamboo-bristles-adult/#.VoxChvFU-b9

Hello Beth, I was doing some searches on plastic and BPA relating to blenders and I stumbled across your site. Then I went onto some of the other articles and hit this one. It seems like your looking for a “natural toothbrush”. Just as an FYI, I thought I’d pass this along. I know that it’s effective, cheap and natural. What’s more, it’s usually used without toothpaste as it has its own antibacterial properties, so there’s even more plastic (usually the toothpaste containers) not being used. People that I’ve seen use it regularly have excellent teeth (although their diets might… Read more »

I use swiss chard fibre as dental floss, it’s very strong and flexible. Just peel the fibre from the stalk, it peels off easily. Obviously not a dentist but works well for me.

Scandalous! Perhaps manufacturers need to be less trusting and do some 3rd party testing themselves.

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Great research, thank you. Found this which appears to have 100% bamboo bristles but a plastic handle! Also their website doesn’t work. But if ‘Brush with Bamboo’ could add bamboo bristles…. http://amzn.to/2l56LDC

Sorry but so what’s the point? Actually, even worse as the handle has more plastic than the bristles themselves.

What do you think about Preserve toothbrushes? The handle is #5 plastic and they have a recycling program. I don’t know what the bristles are made of. And what kind of dental floss do you recommend? I am using Radius, made from silk but the container is plastic. I have also used Eco-Dent, which comes in a cardboard box; the floss is made of nylon. It seems there is no perfect product, but flossing is important.

I use POH NoWax floss. It comes in a reusable plastic canister with a metal lid and is unfortunately sold in plastic clamshell packaging. However, POH does sell floss refills that can be used to refill the reusable canister. The refills are wrapped in paper tissue and packaged in a cardboard box. Even the spool around which the floss is wound is paper. I don’t like the plastic clamshell packaging for the floss canister, but, after the initial purchase, the only plastic I am discarding is used floss.

LOL. Great post! Thanks for writing and sharing! I look forward to reading your updates to it!

LOL. Great post! Thanks so much for writing this! Looking forward to reading your updates for this post!

Hi Beth-

I appreciate your work on this! We have a box of toothbrushes from The Environmental Toothbtush we ate working through. I remember a few years ago at Burning Man you and I briefly talked about this specific brush, and your concerns with Nylon-4 (they had switched from plastic to all paper-packaging, which I was excited about). This is good information for when we purchase our next toothbrushes (and we will have to saw off our bristle heads before we compost the handle, going forward). I’m looking forward to updates here, thank you for all your work!

Great post!

I make chew sticks out of marshmellow or root. You can make them out of all sorts of other plant materials; I prefer to use local plants. They work great and it’s the only type of toothbrush I know to be from nature and fully compostable.

Ella Vint
ecolove.ca

I just tried the burn test on my recently bought “The Environmental Toothbrush” and sure enough it melted instead of burning.

Thanks for sharing your tests, I’ll be more careful in my buying choices next time!

Love the work Beth. Thanks!

Was The Humble Brush tested here ?

That is very interesting! Have you tried Tea Nature toothbrushes yet? They state their bristles are made of bamboo: http://teanatura.com/prodotti/cosmesi-naturale/spazzolini-in-bamb%C3%B9-tipo-adulto-e-bambino-100-biodegradabile

I have contacted them and they insist that the bristles are indeed made of bamboo and, since other people have requested more details, they are pressing their provider to send them those.

They claim that the burning test is useless (which I must agree) because vegetable based plastic or polymerized will also melt like petroleum based one. Plastic is indeed plastic but obviously one is more eco than the other.

They also claim they have not used any glue to stick the bristles into the handle.

Unfortunately, they’re not… I was so proud to have found one of those compostable, but as I was reading your post, I tried burning one of the bristles and it melted… I’m very disapointed but thank you for opening my eyes!

See my reply above.

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