Toothbrush Your Shoulder Off

Does anyone else keep their old toothbrush thinking they will use it at a later date to clean something?

Despite years of saving those things, I have NEVER cleaned anything with a toothbrush. The fantasy is that I adorn myself with the yellow, elbow-length, heavy-duty gloves and really get to work on those hard-to-reach spots. Like behind the faucet. What am I, Mr. Clean? No! Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Although, I probably should make time.)

Well, zero wasters, what should we do with our toothbrushes?

The most zero-waste approach, as with all things, is to not acquire toothbrushes. To use our fingers or something readily available in nature (read: twig). If you’re not willing to do either of those and you must buy a toothbrush, you should get the most sustainable one you can. But what does that look like?

So, what are we trying to accomplish? Zero waste, I know. But what does that mean? Does it mean we don’t generate trash? Does it mean we might make trash, but use less energy than if we didn’t make trash? How can we really break it down enough to know how much energy was used? These are the big questions, guys!

There are options, let’s look at them.* 

As with all products, we need to consider the embodied energy of the material and the useful life of the product in addition to the amount of trash it creates at the end of its useful life.

Brush With Bamboo looks like a sustainable option. The handle is made of bamboo (organic, wild, giant, Chinese Moso bamboo). The bamboo is picked wild from a mountain, so no water is applied to the crop other than that which naturally occurs. It’s organic, so no chemicals are applied to crop. Very little embodied energy so far. But what about the fact that the bamboo is sourced from China? I suppose you could say, well, there are ships coming over from China every day. No harm, no foul, right? I just don’t know. I plan to do some follow up on this in a separate post, but for now I have to be honest about the reservations I have with the sustainability of depending on materials on the other side of the planet (especially when we can grow bamboo here).

The bristles are made of castor bean oil and plastic.  The handle is 100% biodegradable, but the bristles are not (they are “biobased,” but not biodegradable). You can compost the handle yourself if you pluck the bristles. OR, you can use it as a seeding marker in your garden, as pictured. Cute!


Picture taken from the Brush With Bamboo website.

Okay great.

Here’s my question: how energy intensive is it to harvest the bamboo, ship it to the US, and manufacture the brush?

I’m not honestly expecting to find the answer. Not unless some engineer who has done the calculations happens to read my blog and provide me with the answer. (Are you out there? Can you hear me?) For now, it’s important to ask the questions and think more deeply about it.

I want to compare the embodied energy of the bamboo toothbrushes to the ones I’m going to discuss next: recycled plastic.

Here I go again with the plastic. Plastic already exists everywhere in the largest quantities you could ever dream of. It’s literally everywhere. Getting thrown away. Why not use it? Do I think we should use plastic forever? No. But I think we used the energy to pull it out of the ground and make it, so we should use it until its useful life is up.

I have been buying Preserve toothbrushes for a long time now. Honestly, I’ve never given the sustainability aspect much thought, or compared it to other products.  The handle is made with recycled yogurt cups, and the bristles are new nylon. These you can’t compost, but you can send them back to the company for recycling.

The whole premise of Preserve is to provide recycling services of #5 plastics. More than 1/3 of U.S. communities don’t accept #5 for recycling. Thus, Preserve makes its products out of #5 and accepts all #5 for recycling. However, the actual material that gets fabricated for products is made up of multiple other materials, so the company states it is not recyclable in your standard recycling bin.

Note: the City of Tulsa is not in the 1/3 that does not accept #5. We proudly do.

This whole post originated because I dropped my work toothbrush on the floor in the bathroom. I seriously took a moment to consider whether I should take it home to boil it. It only touched the floor for, like, two seconds! Then I realized: no one should put a toothbrush in their mouth that has touched the floor of a semi-public bathroom, no matter how brief a touch and no matter how hardcore a zero-waster one may be. So I have to replace it (I’m sure there are folks more hardy than I who would scoff at this conclusion). I knew the company recycled its used products, but I’d never done it before so I looked it up. Products may be recycled either in a “Gimme 5” dropoff location, or mailed in to the company. Lo and Behold: Tulsa actually has a Gimme 5 dropoff location where I can take this toothbrush!! Whaddaya know! There isn’t a bin, but you can hand off your used brush to an employee at the midtown Tulsa Whole Foods at 1401 E. 41st St. Tulsa, OK 74105. There isn’t a bin, you just have to hand it off to an employee.

Recycle your Preserve toothbrush at the midtown Tulsa Whole Foods at 1401 E. 41st St. Tulsa, OK 74105

Now, if we didn’t have a bin, I would mail in the toothbrush, but I would need to wait until I had more to recycle. (Isn’t that quite the catch: I need to use MORE to use less. All I can do is sigh and shake my head at this concept.) In fact, the more, the better. The company discourages returning less than 6 used items for recycling at a time. This prevents the amount of energy used to recycle the product from outweighing the beneficial use of the product itself. Remember our discussion of embodied energy? Here is an illustration of that. It doesn’t make sense to use more energy processing something something than it is actually worth.

SO, go on (tooth)brush your shoulder off. (One takes the opportunity to parody Jay Z when one is presented with said opportunity.)

*I derive no economic gain or payment from discussing any company or its products included herein, although I should.

Detroit Dirt


Read this article from Martha Stewart Living about an awesome social entrepreneur in Detroit.

It’s about time Tulsa had some kind of food waste diversion program, right? Who is going to start a municipal composting business?? I, for one, would love to do something like this in Tulsa.

Edited to state: The City of Tulsa operates a yard waste disposal program, which is sometimes called the city “composting” facility. When I refer to “municipal composting” above, I refer to an all-encompassing composting operation which is not limited only to yard waste. Just wanted to make that clear for all! When I hear “compost” I think of food waste, not yard waste. In my opinion, it’s a given that yard waste is composted (and not necessarily in a “composting facility”). Read more about my yard waste opinions here.