ANN/THE STAR – There are many ways to live more sustainably, some large, others small. And you need look no further than your bathroom to find one.
Dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every few months, which adds up to a lot of plastic waste over time. So that the rubbish is at least not non-biodegradable plastic, some eco-minded people use toothbrushes with a bamboo handle.
Is this the most environmentally sustainable option?
Friends of the Earth Germany points to a study, published in 2020 in the British Dental Journal, comparing the sustainability of different toothbrush types.
The study found that both bamboo and replaceable-head manual plastic toothbrushes had the lowest environmental impact, less than traditional plastic toothbrushes and far less than electric ones.
So plastic toothbrushes aren’t such a bad choice after all – if their heads are replaceable.
As for bamboo, environmental experts point to the often long transport routes that increase the environmental impact. Toothbrushes made of domestic wood are a better choice.
The wood, it adds, should carry a label from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an international, non-profit organisation whose stated mission is to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests”.
The bristles on bamboo and wooden toothbrushes are typically made of plastic and aren’t biodegradable. So when you replace the toothbrushes, you should detach the heads from the handles and dispose of them separately.
Electric toothbrushes leave the biggest environmental footprint due to the resources used for the batteries and charging cables, along with the electricity consumption.
But they also happen to be more effective at removing dental plaque than manual tootbrushes, according to president of the German Dental Association (BZAK) Dr Christoph Benz.
“Nonetheless, you can also achieve good results with proper use of a manual toothbrush, including a bamboo one,” he said. You should brush with a bamboo toothbrush just as you would with another manual toothbrush.
A key factor affecting the quality of all toothbrushes is end-roundedness of the bristles.
“This is important to prevent injury,” explained Dr Benz, adding that while consumers can rely on the products from major toothbrush manufacturers, studies on bamboo and wooden toothbrushes are lacking.
Whether a toothbrush’s bristles are rounded or not is typically stated on the package, Dr Benz noted. He recommends that people looking for a sustainable toothbrush nevertheless make sure that the bristles are made of nylon, which are more hygienic than natural bristles, ie animal hair.
There’s no reason for children not to use a bamboo or wooden toothbrush, said chairwoman of the German Federal Association of Paediatric Dentists (BuKiZ) Johanna Kant: “No matter what kind of brush is used, it’s important that their teeth are clean afterwards and neither tooth substance nor gums are damaged.”
But she advises that parents buy their children toothbrushes with a somewhat thicker handle that’s easier for them to hold. And parents should thoroughly dry off bamboo or wooden toothbrushes after use to prevent germ formation.