Toothbrushes, you ask? While it’s true that these plaque-fighting wonders don’t carry the environmental footprints of cars or televisions, you still may want to consider their eco-impacts due to the sheer number of them in circulation.
Americans spend in excess of $600 million on toothbrushes to keep their pearly whites clean and $5 billion is spent globally. Someone who lives to be 80 years old and who replaces their toothbrushes four times a year, as recommended by the American Dental Association (ADA), will go through more than 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime. That’s a large number of brushes and bristles being manufactured and thrown out. In fact, some 50 million pounds of worn out toothbrushes are tossed into landfills annually. And, handfuls of toothbrushes have been recovered from water samples taken from the floating garbage dump the size of Africa in the Pacific Ocean.
The widespread use of toothbrushes doesn't just create waste: it also takes a significant amount of resources is required to meet demand. Most toothbrushes are made from petroleum-derived plastic. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource whose extraction and production has caused major environmental damage to soil, surface and ground waters, and local ecosystems. The production of petroleum also contributes to global warming. The plastics industry as a whole releases millions of pounds of toxic waste into the air, water, and soil each year, and represents 7 percent of the 5.7 billion pounds of toxic chemicals dumped by all manufacturers each year
Manual vs. electric toothbrushes
No matter what side you take in the ongoing debate about the cleaning superiority of electric vs. people-powered brushes, manual brushes are greener than electric. If you go electric—and for some with arthritis and other hand mobility issues that extra help really is a necessity—a replaceable head electric brush with rechargeable batteries (extra points for using a solar charger) offers a greener alternative. Extend the reach of your green toothbrush by also choosing a toothbrush holder made of recycled glass or bamboo, instead of plastic.
The amount of dental floss sold in the US each year could span the distance from the earth to the moon and back four times! While floss itself is made of nylon or silk—both of which have their own eco-drawbacks—you can green up your dental floss by choosing a floss that is not coated with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which also provides the coating in non-stick cookware, or petroluem-based wax. Also choose floss that comes in recycled or minimal packaging.