The American Dental Association recommends replacing your toothbrush every three to four months. That is a good idea as far as dental health is concerned, but it is bad news for the environment. The standard toothbrush is made of a hard plastic handle and a set of soft nylon bristles. Most come in plastic packages. These petroleum products do not biodegrade, they release toxic chemicals if incinerated and they suck up valuable fossil fuels.
There are a few toothbrush manufacturers who have found ways to make their toothbrushes from recycled materials and turn old brushes back into usable products at the end of their lives. Get more information about them below. We also share information about some super eco-friendly alternatives to the typical plastic toothbrush.
Consider a toothbrush made with some recycled materials
There is a great company called Preserve
that makes new consumer products – including toothbrushes – out of recycled #5 plastic. The company has a partnership with Whole Foods to collect old yogurt and margarine tubs, water filters, Burts Bees lip balm tubes and other items. They take all that plastic, melt it down, and turn it into toothbrushes, razors, and food storage containers.
If you purchase a Preserve toothbrush (they are available at Whole Foods and many other grocery stores that specialize in organic and natural foods) you can return it to the company when you are done with it. It will go in with all their other recycled products and become a new toothbrush or other handy household item.
To recycle your toothbrush, take it to a participating Whole Foods retailer and look for their Gimme 5 bin. You can also mail your old toothbrushes (send six at a time to save on postage costs) directly to Preserve. You have to pay the cost of shipping, but the company essentially pays you back by sending you a coupon for $6 off a purchase in their online store.
How to recycle other toothbrush brands
Colgate has a partnership with TerraCycle
to recycle unwanted toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, dental floss containers, and the packaging those items come in. They turn them into plastic lumber and other types of consumer products.
To recycle your toothbrushes and related items, all you have to do is mail them to TerraCycle using the instructions on their website. However, to earn points with TerraCycle (which are redeemable for donations to the school or nonprofit of our choice) the company requires that you save up about 100 pieces before putting a package in the mail. See if any of your neighbors or your children’s friends use Colgate products and want to go in on a shipment with you. Or check with your dentist to see if they collect toothbrushes. Evergreen Family Dentistry
in Memphis, Tennessee, advertises their participation in TerraCycle’s toothbrush recycling program on their website.
How to recycle an electric toothbrush
It is important to note electric toothbrushes contain rechargeable batteries, which you are required to recycle. Rechargeable batteries can contain heavy metals such as nickel, zinc and cadmium that can be very damaging to the environment and human health. Check with your local solid waste district or any electronics recycling organizations in your community to see if they have drop-off locations for rechargeable batteries. If they do not, visit Call2Recycle
, a website devoted to sharing information about battery recycling programs, to find a recycler near you.
The body of your electric toothbrush can be tough to recycle since it contains lots of plastic and metal parts that cannot be separated easily. Government or private electronics recycling programs may be able to take your entire electric toothbrush and recycle it, but the availability of these services varies from community to community. Check with your local providers to learn what they take and what they do not.
How to minimize the waste from your toothbrush
There are several other ways to minimize waste from toothbrushes and their packaging. When you no longer want to use your toothbrush for cleaning your teeth, hang onto it and use it for household cleaning instead. Toothbrushes are great for scrubbing faucets, floors and rings and other jewelry.
You can buy toothbrushes with replaceable heads. That way you can keep the handle, which is the biggest part of the toothbrushes, and only replace the part that wears out quickly. EcoDent
are two examples of companies that make toothbrushes with replaceable heads.
If you want to compost your old toothbrush rather than putting it in the trash, look for toothbrushes made of bamboo or wood. The handles can definitely go in your compost bin, but there is some evidence that certain types of nylon are also compostable. Read more about eco-friendly toothbrush options on author Beth Terry’s fantastic blog My Plastic-Free Life
Some toothbrushes come in packages that are plastic in the front and cardboard in the back. While that plastic cannot be recycled, the cardboard can. Place it in your recycling bin along with other paper products you plan to recycle.