A friend recently shared with me a Facebook post about Brush Naked biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes with plant-based bristles. My first thought was ‘not another bamboo toothbrush trying to pass as 100% biodegradable’ but after closer inspection, I found it to be the real deal!
The difference with this toothbrush (which is a Canadian brand, made in China) is that the bristles are made from tapioca and corn, and are compostable. They’re not a variation of Nylon like the other toothbrushes I’ve seen.
Flora & Fauna said they had seen the testing and lab results to prove it is compostable, and that it’s a material used for other biodegradable applications but hasn’t been used for toothbrush bristles before. They also provided a very honest review for the product, which is great:
“Now we must warn you that they don’t last nearly as along as nylon bristles so if you want a toothbrush that lasts 6 weeks+, get one with nylon bristles. These bristles fray quickly; we can get them to last from a few days to a couple of weeks (we’ve done a fair bit of testing) but some people have made them last longer.”
Because my current toothbrushes last months longer than they are supposed too, I decided to buy one and give it ago. I figured I would be in the category of people who could make it last longer than a couple of weeks.
It wasn’t a cheap toothbrush – $7.95 compared to mine which are $3 to $4 depending on where I source them and how many I buy at a time. But, I was keeping an open mind, willing to support environmental innovation, and, businesses have to start somewhere before they can become more economical.
I was a little surprised when I opened the toothbrush box to find another layer of packaging (The Environmental Toothbrush doesn’t have this). I emailed Brush Naked to find out what the material was and got this response:
“The sleeves are a 100% biodegradable/compostable cello made from wood and cotton pulp. We actually didn’t wrap them in the cello until we started wholesaling them. You’d be shocked to see how many people actually take the toothbrush out of the box to feel the bristles. We felt we had to do something to keep them sanitary! It is going in your mouth after all.”
I guess this makes some people happy but I really have no problem with my other toothbrushes not being wrapped. Especially as I buy a 12 month supply for the family at one time, straight from the supplier; there’s no opportunity for anyone else to open the boxes and feel the bristles.
Unfortunately, after looking and feeling magnificent to begin with, my toothbrush frayed after one brush.
By the time I had brushed my teeth four times (two days) it was too uncomfortable to use because the bristles had became harder and more frayed.
Time to compost the bristles and save the handle for use in my garden.
In my emails to the company, I had also asked if they had certification on the compostability of the bristles and if they knew how long it would take to break down. The answer was:
“We do not have certification. We really hesitate giving timelines for compostability as it will completely depend on the compost. It DOES require a compost that is generating heat, so if the compost is really small, it will take significantly longer than a large compost.”
My first thought was that I can’t compost this toothbrush because I don’t have a hot composting system at home (I use other methods), nor can I access a commercial composting system through council organic waste collection.
But, after asking the company for information on the eco friendliness of the process of turning tapioca and corn into a bristle, I received this information:
“Compared to fossil-fuel based plastics, it definitely is [environmentally friendly]. So are any dyes added to our bristles. I’ll attach an article that explains the process pretty well. It’s about a different industry, but it breaks it down pretty well.
This led me to realise that the actual material used for the bristles is Polylactic acid or PLA and I ended up perusing a range of articles to learn more about PLA. I came across this:
“Not all PLA plastic packaging will find its way to a composting facility. However, it’s reassuring to know that when corn-based plastics are incinerated they do not emit toxic fumes like PET or other petroleum-based plastics.” (Source 8 Things You Need To Know About PLA Plastic)
So I started putting the bristles in my open fireplace (it’s Winter here). The ash will be spread on my garden at a later time.
But then I stopped and decided to do an experiment with the remaining bristles. I’m going to stick my toothbrush in the ground and check on it over the months to see what happens.
I think it’s fantastic that someone has made progress in producing compostable toothbrush bristles and hopefully they are continuing to innovate so that the bristles have a much longer life. Maybe one day that could include changeable heads, rather than having to replace whole toothbrushes, to reduce the environmental impact even further. For now, with the short lifespan and increased cost, I can’t justify switching to this brush. What are your thoughts?
P.S. Have you heard of the burn test? Some people think that burning the bristles to see if it melts or burns is an indication of biodegradability, with those that melt being plastic and those that burn being biodegradable. Did you notice how these bristles melted rather than burned? That’s actually a feature of this biodegradable bioplastic, or PLA. So, it seems the burn test is not really a good indicator of biodegradability.