Plastic and Oral Hygiene, the Whole Tooth
The whole tooth haha!..Okay, okay bad dad joke there, but it tickled you a little bit, right?
Why the Toothbrush? I hear you ask. Well as you may have already seen on my instagram, toothbrushes are a big contributor of plastic waste. In Northern America alone, enough toothbrushes are tossed annually to circle Earth four times.
You read that right. Annually 1 billion of those bushy bastards are binned, making it a rather worrysome subject! It is probably a poor time to mention that just to make that nice new pink toothbrush with built in tongue scraper you love, toxins and chemicals are pumped into our atmosphere. To make the toxic chemical nylon for the bristles, Nitrous Oxide is released. This greenhouse gas is 310 x more potent that carbon dioxide. In addition to Nylon, polypropylene plastic is used to make commercial manual toothbrushes. Both are sourced from non renewable fossil fuels. Just to make it a bit more disgusting, the plastic by-products that are made during a toothbrushes manufacturing process include petroleum and crude oil.
Okay, so without throwing out more plastic names or chemical chat, I think we can ascertain that manual plastic toothbrushes are a load of crap, so we can just use electric toothbrushes, right?
Not necessarily. Electric toothbrushes are made of rubber and plastic. Plus you need to recycle the batteries eventually, even if they’re rechargeable. If batteries are not disposed of properly, they leak out acid that causes much damage to the environment.
That said, you could get a rechargeable toothbrush. Costly, but good for your teeth and durable for the most part. In addition, you could invest in the sexy charcoal heads by companies like Livecoco. These are compatible with most oral B toothbrushes, and I am strongly considering them a go as they are apparently fully recyclable, and due to their containing charcoal, they draw chlorine out of the water you’re brushing your pegs with, win win!
Rechargeable brushes do incur energy costs though. Powered brushed use around the same amount of energy as a toaster. Studies showed they draw almost as much power to maintain charge as they do to actually charge, so they are not invincible and will probably end up on the landfill!
So how about a bamboo toothbrush. The Bamboo is sustainable and compostable, and as long as you keep it dry and upright, durable too. Many have been made with BPA free nylon bristles, which is meant to also decompose quicker. This is still being researched though, and they are still releasing chemicals upon manufacturing and decomposing periods. You can also get bristles made with pig hair, which is super sustainable but not a choice for vegans. I personally will opt for PLA bristles in the future. This is a plant based, biodegradable plastic alternative. Brush Naked do a brilliant range.
Okay so now we can finally grab our bamboo toothbrushes and get to work with some minty magic. But hold up, what about toothpaste? Does is not contain lots of chemicals, and come in a nice squeezy tube for ease of use? Oh joy. Just another one of these disastrous post war inventions intended to promise ease of use. By the time the 80’s came along with it’s mass consumerism and advertisement, the ‘collapsable’ toothpaste capsule was released. Thanks Colgate.
Did you know that most toothpastes contain hydrated silica too? For those who don’t know what hydrated silica is, let me remind you of those little sachets of balls you get in packages and can use to dry out your water damaged phone or laptop. Yep, exact same stuff! Oh the things I learn doing research for you guys.. this even shocked me! Though this is NOT a microplastic, and is deemed ‘safe’ by the FDA.
In addition this lovely abrasive, many toothpastes contain Sodium Lauryl or Laureth Sulfate. Also found in shampoos, bodywashes and other soaps, SLS is derived from coconuts, though it’s not very good for you. It is a carcinogen (and we are putting this shit in our mouths), and it has a very important job in all our cosmetics, to LATHER! I am not shitting you, SLS primary function is to create those luxurious bubbles we all love so much. Funniest thing is, studies have shown that when paired with Fluoride, it can form deposits on enamel.
There are plenty more chemicals you can find in your toothpaste tube, all just as exciting and dangerous. Triclosan is anti- bacterial. It is also a pesticide that causes fertility problems and development issues in foetuses. Propylene Glycol is a plastic. Sodium Fluoride is a nice ingredient that can cause thyroid problems and is commonly used as a rat killer. We still use it, even though if you ingest more than used for brushing it is suggested that you seek professional help. Yum. FYI, too much fluoride can also discolour your tooth enamel, which is not great considering fluoride is also in most of our waterways.
Opting for a chemical free toothpaste is actually more satisfying than you’d think. I’ve been making home concoctions with bicarb and coconut oil for years (I could let you know more about that too, if you’d like). Eliminating the use of nasty chemicals in my oral hygiene routine has only been beneficial. Coconut oil is a natural antiseptic, anti inflammatory, anti fungal and super cleaning agent. It also removes stains and plaque, and balances oral pH. To top it off, coconut oil actually restores the your teeth enamel and contains vitamins that contribute to overall better oral health.
Okay, so we know that toothbrushes are terrible, toothpaste is toxic, but what about dental floss? Do we have to swap that too? Yes of course you wally, you didn’t think companies were out making environmentally friendly dental floss when they could easily make more wasteful crap, did you?!
Regular floss is definitely not one of the biggest waste problems we have, but hear me out. Dental floss is often just waxed nylon. Nylon is derived from crude oil, just like regular plastic, as we mentioned above. And sure, Nylon only takes 50-80 years to decompose. But it’s still waste that not only leaches chemicals to form, but is packaged in single use plastic containers.
We focus so often on what is recyclable and biodegradable. We should instead be focusing on our reduction of waste. I recently discovered the brand Georganics, who make a great dental floss from bamboo charcoal fibres. The floss comes in reusable glass jars, and the refills themselves come in compostable containers. This biodegradable floss is a brilliant vegan alternative (they also have ahimsa silk floss).
I love sharing research and knowledge with you, especially when it could help make the world a greener place. We all have to work together to make the little changes. Remember, you vote with your money and your time.. support green, local and ethical where you can. Even a simple swap like your toothbrush makes all the difference.
What would you like to see more of on my blog? Comment below or contact me directly.
Ahimsa silk - An arguably ethical silk made from the cocoons of silk worms. How this differs is that the worms are not killed inside the sacks. Instead the silk is taken once the hatched silk moths discard it.
Biodegradable - something that can naturally decay, without causing harm. Don’t let ‘degradable’ bags catch you out here. The key part is bio, meaning it can be broken down by bacteria or other biological means such as water or heat.
Crude Oil - A commonly used non renewable fossil fuel. Petroleum products are all made from Crude oil and are often cross referred. At the current rate of consumption, crude oil will be unavailable by 2039. There the many uses of crude oil and Petroleum, of which many of the refining and transforming of these chemicals creates air pollution.
Carcinogen - Put simply, a carcinogen is something that is capable of causing cancer in a living tissue. Frightening I know.
FDA - ‘FDA Mission. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.’ from the FDA