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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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

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 »

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.

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.

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 :)

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?

Darcy

Liked the article but… ‘humane’ meat? Humane means to show compassion/kindness – can’t use this word in the context of confining and killing. It just makes us feel better about doing something wrong. Idea: before using the word humane ask if you would want it done to yourself.

Gio

I fully agree. Also, doesn’t the above experience teach us anything? Maybe that we should not believe some claims so easily? I grew up on a farm and have knowledge of the practices used, also by the oxymoronic so called “humane”ones. They sweeten things up when you are around and when you are gone…..if somebody believes that an animal is a product, a product of their business, he/she will NEVER take the animals needs into serious consideration. Finally, there’s absolutely no way to die “humanely” when it’s somebody else taking away your life after only few months of your existence.… Read more »

krissy

Thank you for being right. It’s disgusting and shameful

Ellen

Do you have any updates on brush with bamboo’s plant base claim?

Mel

Hi! i just received my toothbrushes from “Brush with Bamboo”, but I just found a girl in Tj that claims she sells 100% biodegradable toothbrushes made in Mexico, made of wheat straw and the bristles charcoal bamboo, she told me I can just throw it on the compost. What information you have on those materials? Thanks!

Ian

Seems pretty gross to me – much more likelihood of bacteria buildup on that kind of thing than synthetic. Has anyone thought of the additional health risks here?

Undisclosed

It’s not all about us! This is the current issue! Me me me me me. Change your toothbrush more regularly. Until we stop thinking we are the best and most important species on this planet things won’t change..

Gio

Agree but don’t need to change the toothbrush more often; just leave them in bicarbonate of soda diluted in water or similar for few minutes.
Also, I would not believe these scaremongering stories for a sec. Build up bacteria happens because of poor diets, lack of exercise (oxygen) and lack of reasonable hygiene practices.

Sunna

Amen. People are so concerned with personal preferences, but we all suffer from plastic waste contamination and indiscriminate use of finite resources. Far more that we will suffer by paying a little more money or having to drip some hydrogen peroxide on the toothbrush to cleanse it. I do this anyway with my refillable toothbrush, same one I have had since I was a teenager over a decade ago. I have not suffered health problems from my toothbrush. Bacteria is everywhere, avoiding all of it will drive you crazy and weaken your immune system.

Amanda

What about brushnaked? One of their toothbrushes claims to be 100% biodegradeable with bristles made from corn and tapioca. https://us.brushnaked.com/products/adult-soft-toothbrush-with-plant-based-bristles-green

Sarah

Dear MPFL,

Have you found any toothbrushes that are 100% biodegradable, vegan and that you would recommend?

Thanks for writing this piece. I’m usually quick to question anything that comes from China but I’ve been believing any claims by companies selling bamboo products. Not anymore.

Regards, Sarah.

Sam Peak

Hello Beth, I’m interested to know if you have followed up on the Charcoal-Enhanced bristles? You state in your report here that you would be investigating them and will update when you know more.
Cheers
Sam

Isabelle

hi!! do you have the update yet on this section:

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.)

?

I’m trying to implement the most biodegradable option at my University’s Dentistry School.

Thanks!

De nice angel

What about Miswak sticks?

Judie

Has anyone ordered a Giving Brush? https://givingbrush.com. I really loved the rainbow design for my kids, but since receiving an order confirmation with a gmail address I now think I’m scammed. I looked further into it and they claim to be a BBB accredited business but can’t find them in the registry. Also the ‘Our Story’ is actually super vague.

Even if I receive the toothbrushes, if they aren’t who they say they are what does that say about the materials used for the toothbrushes? Has this toothbrush been tested by myplasticfreelife? Anyone received them?

Sunna

I have seen the Giving Brush on instagram a lot and have scanned the comments, also sent an email since they weren’t answering anyone who asked about the bristles. They said they are made of nylon-6. They never answered me on how to get them recycled. Other customers in the comment threads seem to believe the bristles are plant based and/or biodegradable and the company makes no move to correct them. Thus, I wrote them off as a scam

Juliawern

Can somebody test brush naked brand? They have biodegradable bristles made from corn and tapioca. I’m curious if it’s true or not.

Pam

Hi there, I don’t know if this brush naked brand is authentic, but I will say after visiting their website that they tell you upfront that they are NOT as soft as their nylon brushes… So the point being that this then made me VERY nervous even trying them as I’m trying to get away from medium or hard bristles which nylon has been known as being moreso in that it can be too hard, thus causing damage to enamel and gums. Yes, you can try to brush more gently, but I have to say that I’ve been using several… Read more »

Chris

Why is anyone shocked by any corporate, governmental or industrial entity, particularly in the PRC, lying about what they do or make?

Jay

Well is the charcoal enhanced brush biodegradable? Where’s the follow up. And thanks for no sign up for commenting.

Tony

Animal concerns aside, when a toothbrush is made from bamboo it’s not made from plastic – pure and simple. We can wring our hands over the bristles, but we’re not contributing the handles to the landfill

Jorell

I was looking through Amazon and found a company, Livecoco, selling a bamboo toothbrush and they claim the bristles are made of charcoal fibre. I have been looking around to see if this is even possible. Any idea if this can work?