The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 8, 2015

The Truth About Your Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrush

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.  (Here’s an example.)  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.

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 things, 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 misled 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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Gracie

Hi,
I’m trying to find the best option for brushes and was wondering if you’ve heard of the company Brush Naked. They claim their bristles are 100%plant based and made from tapioca and corn. Is this biodegradable and eco friendly? Also, if I wanted to send it to a lab for testing, do you have a lab you would recommend?

Thanks!

Kimberly A Santos

Loved the article. Wish you said which brand you recommend currently ☺️

Mark

I notice that you wrote your article in 2015, saying that you’d say whether the charcoal-infused bristles were what they claimed to be as soon as you got the results from the lab. Could you please update us now? What did the lab say?

Prasad

Thanks a lot. I have been searching a long time now for an alternative to chewing plastic twice a day. For me n my kids. A lot of people back in my village still roll up mango leaves and brush their teeth and in some areas they even chew on some fibrous sticks. Only problem is you need to do it thrice a day instead of two times. But they are observed to have strong teeth up till their 80s and 90s plus a good digestive system. But they have been branded as low class country people and all they… Read more »

nic

how about human hairs as bristles for toothbrush

Jess

Yeah- this was an interesting read- thanks but shouldn’t we start somewhere like banning plastic toothbrushes being made by major chains?

E

Here is Terracycle and Colgate’s recycling program where you can send the nylon bristles (and plastic toothbrushes, empty toothpaste containers, and empty floss containers): https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/colgate#how-it-works

Susan

I don’t know of any brands where the bristles are not plastic.
Use with bamboo handle but when finished, remove the bristles and put to recycle.
I buy at naturally-bio.com

Tks for your article

Loressa Clisby

Thank you for your work, as my efforts to find a completely plastic-free toothbrush have so far failed also. I read that pig or boar hair is hollow and likely to attract bacteria unless dipped in boiling water every few days. I have also found a toothbrush made with “plant based” bristles but it falls apart and is rendered useless after a few days use. There is hope, however. Seaweed is currently being developed as a plastic alternative and perhaps could be used in future.

nat

Hello,
thank you for your article.
based on how I understand the bamboo toothbrushes is that the handle is bamboo (antibacterial) and made of the fastest growing wood and the bristles are plastic. After the brush is past its use you can use it for cleaning at home and after you can not clean then you remove the bristles and recycle them and the bamboo is biodegradable and compostable so you ideally compost it.

Stephanie B.

What about Natural Vegan toothbrushes? The website says, “These are bamboo bristles dipped in a biopolymer, and are indeed compostable.”

Seffy Weffy Bucky Boo

Cures cancer in lab. But it doesn’t work in real life 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂 “ plastic has been shown in lab studies to biodegrade…… however, lab studies and real life aren’t the same thing.” What!!!!! This makes no sense

adrianne

Can you give some recommendations on toothbrushes that are safe? Im concerned about what another poster said, that some bamboo is mixed with resin that contains formaldehyde? What?! Is WOWE brand safe? Thats what my family is currently using.

David

UPDATES PLEASE??? I NEED A 100% NON PETROLEUM OPTION. AS I IT TURNS OUT I AM ALLERGIC TO PUTTING THOUSANDS OF YEARS WORTH OF DEAD PEOPLE, PLANTS AND ANIMALS INTO MY MOUTH AND ON MY SKIN :(

Jerry Daniels

Thousands of years?? Your numbers are waaaaaaaay off, try millions of years. No dead people, just dead dinosaurs (unless you believe people and dinosaurs coexisted, lol)

Caroline

I recently found a cornstarch toothbrush at a natural grocery near me, have you done any research on these? I am curious how they compare to bamboo.

Deborah Sykes

Do bamboo toothbrushes go through a fumigation process when they are imported or exported

MJ

Try a miswak; a small twig that is used in many cultures to clean teeth

David

From what source? Amazon is FULL of the stuff covered in China Death Plastics. Served straight to the soft membrane tissues of your mouth.

Bill Levey

Hi – curious if you or anyone here has tested the material of the “bamboo” handle also. In nearly every other bamboo product we know of, the bamboo is actually only a part of the equation, usually mixed 50/50 melamine resin (which contains formaldehyde). So bamboo is only half of the story (eg bamboo coffee cups). It may be the handle more than the bristles that is creating the issue… would love to know if tested or asked (the actual manufacturer- not companies that market and sell). Thanks all!

TLA48

As a dental professional I do not recommend using toothbrush bristles made of any type of hair. Hair is porous and cannot be properly cleaned of all the bacteria that will embed into the pores (not even boiling it will work) so using that material will put more bacteria in your mouth than you started with.

Ramon Puig

Then people have to just leave it in a solution of 3% of mint oil and the bacteria will be killed. Stop telling people how dangerous bacteriae are and telling them they have to take fluoride and use nature polluting stuff.

LYDIA RAIN

Thank you for your informative round up of eco-friendly toothbrushes. It’s not good news, but at least I can avoid falling into the trap of buying a biodegradable wooden handle and adding to the waste problem with plastic bristles, and avoiding non-vegan animal bristles. Why can’t someone make a toothbrush with hemp bristles?

John

I second that request from Mel

Mel

Update on the charcoal enhanced toothbrushes?

bamboo charcoal toothbrush

Buy bamboo charcoal toothbrush 100% biodegradable with activated charcoal The handle is made of MOS bamboo, an environmentally sustainable timber. The bamboo is heat treated to carbonize the surface of the bamboo, giving it a quality finish and good service life. The carbonization finishing process provides water resistance and prevents the growth of microbes (bacteria and molds) during normal use. 1. The bristles are made from 100% biodegradable soft and medium bristle, nylon, bamboo fiber, or corn fiber. 2. We recommend you rinse and dry your toothbrush after use to keep it clean. Disposing of your toothbrush 1. For best… Read more »

Abigail Cordoba Villalobos

Hello, just to be clear, the charcoal bristles are biodegradable, correct?

Truth

None of this matters. The bristles are staple set so NONE of these are safely compostable.

Rahul Kumar

Can someone share me the market size and market share of toothbrush industry of India and Globally??

Maria

Thank you! Please let us know if you find a toothbrush that is actually biodegradable.

Joe Fine

there is no toothbrush on the market that is 100$ bio degradable. No company manufactures true biodegradable bristles yet. Some say they do but they melt like plastic if you test them. Just pull out the bristles is such a small amount of nylon.

David

Why on earth are you people hyper-focused on biodegradability when the only real issue at hand is that it’s leeching toxic poison plastic straight into your mouth? Maybe you are all confused from all the hormone disruptors?

Heather Kilmurray

Thanks for this – do you know any bamboo toothbrushes that ARE biodegradable? and where to get them? thanks!

Leila

I would be very interested to know if you got the charcoal-enhanced bamboo bristles tested. One company is saying that “our bristles are made from activated charcoal and Bio-pet that degrades quicker than any Nylon product”. But when I look up Bio-PET, all I find (from reputable-looking scientific sources) is that it is recyclable, but it’s NOT biodegradable.

Lewis

Hello, thanks for sharing this amazing article on the bamboo toothbrush. I fully support your plastic-free life. The company in Germany called ‘Einfach Weniger ‘they manufacture Bamboo toothbrush. For more information, you can check the website: https://einfachweniger.ch/

Joey

Hey interesting read,
I don’t trust anything that comes out of China, is there anything of these biodegradable toothbrushes been made outside of China?
There’s a company hydropaul in Germany but don’t know if they manufactor in Germany or China, I heard before of hemp based bristles have you ever come across them?

George

Bamboo grows in china. You want to manufacture close to the source. It doesnt grow in north america or most of europe. Make sure they company you buy from backs up their source.

Krissy

Bamboo grows in North America. It’s all over the place in NJ. There’s a bamboo forest across from my husband’s workplace. It’s prob not native, but we can grow it easy, it spreads thick and fast like a weed.

David

You aren’t wrong considering that China has been caught RED HANDED a zillion times straight up lying to US manufacturers and consumers about their plastic death.

I have bamboo growing all over my yard, neighbors yard, neighbors neighbors yard, blocks and blocks city after city of Bamboo. I don’t live in China. I live in Florida.

Juliette

Hello,

Thank you very much for this article very revealing! I was about to buy one bamboo toothbrush that according to your article is actually not as good as it claim to be!

Do you have any update on the bamboo toothbrush market? I really would like to buy one but I’m much more beware now…

Thanks!!

ROBERT

Hi,
I really liked the article. Has anyone to date seen a US manufactured bamboo toothbrushes? If so, what do they cost? I have not seen any as of yet. I would expect the price of a US made bamboo toothbrush would be a significant amount more.

George

I am curious why people keep asking this. No matter where it is manufactured the bamboo will come from china. And if u carve it in the US you know how much that would cost. You wouldn’t buy one.

Bob

Very helpful information, thank you. However, I would encourage you to ditch animal foods completely. There is nothing “humane” about needlessly killing more “local” animals, versus animals in China or elsewhere, regardless of how well you think they are “treated” before they are needlessly killed. “Humane” by definition means to treat with benevolence and compassion. But unnecessarily killing anyone who does not want (or need) to be killed is neither benevolent nor compassionate. Please look into it, and consider seriously what we owe to nonhuman individuals. I suggest, as a start, reading law professor Gary Francione’s short book, “Eat Like… Read more »

Derrick

Hear hear Bob! I’m new to this blog (and absolutely loving it so far), but I was very much taken aback by the mention of “humanely raised animals”. There is absolutely nothing humane about eating meat. It’s bad for your health, bad for the environment, and (this should go without saying) bad for the animals.

krissy

I hope you feel the same about all animal products, not just meat. The dairy industry is the psycho who keeps its victims isolated and suffering, keeping them alive and draining them for as long as possible. The meat industry is the serial killer prowling the streets for a slash and run. At least the latter gets it done quick. (Surely not promoting the meat industry, vegan for life here! Just saying, it’s all sickening and best avoided by people with thoughts in their hearts and minds).

krissy

And this is called absolute truth. Vegan prez 2020, vote Booker!

TCarr

Thank you for this article! I am a fresh Environmental studies graduate who is looking to start a new 100% biodegradable toothbrush(yes, even the bristles) company. I am wondering what your favorite companies are that are out there and why. Also is there something you want out of these toothbrush companies other than it being 100% biodegradable? Thank you ahead of time :)

Claire

Would love a fully biodegradable toothbrush head that fits an electric toothbrush. I already owned an electric toothbrush before I started on a plastic-free journey, and there is only one recyclable option I have found but not biodegradable.

Heather Adams

Great info, thank you. I’m new to this zero waste stuff, but have starting making a small compost garden, use a menstrual cup now, and am looking into a bamboo toothbrush! But my local organic retailer sells them in packaged plastic! 🙁 It’s crazy how plasticky this world is!

Desmond Travers

I am interested in any information on degradable toothbrush heads for electric or battery operated toothbrushes. Are there any out there? Please advise.

Jennifer

Oh no! I was just googling plastic free responsible options now and came across the article. So are there any that you could recommend? Thx!

Tamara Rose Doray

Hi, do you know anything about the Giving Brush? It claims to be the most eco friendly in the world, but who the heck knows. My bother goes through toothbrushes like crazy and I want to find one good source I can just buy from in bulk :D

Avni

do you think buying biodegradable/bamboo toothbrushes are actually worth it, or is it easier/better for the environment to just buy toothbrushes made from recycled plastic (like the brand “Preserve”) and then recycle them when I’m done using it? many bamboo brushes’ brands say to remove the bristles with pliers and recycle the bristles while discarding the bamboo handle. is the work worth it? wont the bristles face the chance of blowing away at recycling plants as many one-use straws are said to, in turn polluting the ocean? what do you think? I’m trying to decide which is better. please let… Read more »

Rebeca

Hi! What do you think about tevra toothbrushes?

Sunna

The link provided for the boar bristle toothbrush claims to be cruelty free. Any info on that you might be aware of?

krissy

Not possible. That hair belongs to the boar. You think he likes it being pulled out by the root, or being restrained for a hair cut? Come on people, you can’t steal from animals and call it cruelty free! They never said ‘Yes, I would love to donate my baby’s milk/honey/hair/organs/ENTIRE BODY AND LIFE AS I KNOW IT so humans can feel better about themselves’. And they never would. Going vegan reduces a human’s carbon footprint by 73% (a 5-year study done by a man who set out to prove sustainable animal farming is better than veganism. He went vegan… Read more »

Jodee Sydney

I love what you are doing. Keep up the good work

Picuris

Dear Beth,
can you please cite a reference for your claim, that nylon4 is not biodegradable? Your reasoning sounds to me like: “a study says nylon4 can be degraded, but I dont trust them”.

So could you please cite anything, why you dont trust all the studies, stating nylon4 can be degraded in normal compost? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769161/)

I’m interested in the subject, but your way of reasoning sounds a bit strange to me. Since you’re using a computer not all science can be wrong ;) I’m curious for further references.

Sarah Rushing

I stopped using tooth brushes about a year ago and haven’t looked back. Toothbrushes are just another thing that we were convinced that we needed. Not so. Floss, a water pick and a piece of cloth or thick paper towels work just fine and do not hurt sensitive gums which I am sorry to say all toothbrushes do. Also my method leaves no plastic waste behind.

dyljohbar

Thanks for the article.

About your feelings about ‘humanely-raised animals’ – I urge you to think more on that. If you care about how animals are treated, I’m sure you’ll agree that there is no ‘humane’ way to use animals. There is no ‘kind’ way to use and kill someone who doesn’t want to die.

I recommend you explore these resources:

http://www.humanemyth.org/

https://freefromharm.org/animal-products-and-ethics/a-comprehensive-analysis-of-the-humane-farming-myth/

Monica Rodriguez

I really appreciate this article. I have been looking for something more sustainable because it would be nice and better. I’m having a hard time finding something that has natural bristles and that isn’t plastic at all. I personally think any plastic unless it’s plant based is terrible. so thank you for that information.

ARJ

Omg, I was so shocked to see who runs Brush with Bamboo and don’t trust this company. They are so misleading in their advertisement making consumers think that their bristles are also 100% plant based. They don’t outright state that the product is made in China, where they are harvesting wild bamboo from, and what’s more, I don’t trust the mindset of the ceo! This woman is completely okay will letting her cats roam free and kill wild animals. In fact, she posted herself on Instagram with an injured wild bird and then let it get eaten by her cats!!… Read more »

Heather

Seriously, you’re not going to trust what someone states just because they let their cats roam free and kill birds? When it’s no different than a cat that’s already roaming free, the same size and killing birds?! It’s also no different than birds being killed by the power lines attached to your house! And believe me, birds do die from the high voltage… so is the power line attached to your house anymore humane than this woman’s cats or wild cats already killing said birds?! I’ve seen dead birds in my yard right below the power line, probably because it… Read more »

George

the company has a whole page dedicated to where the wood comes from actually.

krissy

First off, I assume you are a vegan because if you’re not, this sentiment disgusts me for a myriad of reasons. You think cats should be kept captive in homes and their only purpose in life is to amuse and befriend you? I am a vegan and I let my 7 cats roam. They do occasionally kill animals. It makes me sad (and it is certainly gross and disturbing to publicize it, my husband just buries them) but it is part of life. My cats are not vegan. Like every other living creature, they deserve to go outside (actually, to… Read more »

LG

Tbh I don’t really get the point of bamboo toothbrushes. The part of a toothbrush that gets used up and needs replacing is just the bristles, not the handle, and there is the same problem with bamboo toothbrushes as with all others: that the bristles can’t get composted nor recycled. Isn’t it less wasteful to get just one handle in a durable material and only just replace the head – the actual thing that needs replacing – instead of making the handle disposable too and going through lots of them?

Laura

Even though the bristles on my bamboo tooth brush are nylon, its at least 90% less plastic then my old one. It’s still a step in the right direction, and better then not making the switch at all.

Julia ETHY.ink

hey! what do you know about BIO BRUSH BERLIN? They seem pretty convincing – their brushes are 94% biodegradable, the packaging is 100% compostable – the brushes are made out of cellulose from the controlled wood industry.
biobrush-berlin.com/

Konstantin

Hi Beth, how can one support you in getting the test results and updating the article?