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article imageHow sustainable is your toothbrush?

By Tim Sandle     Sep 19, 2020 in Environment
Materials technologists have undertaken a review of the relative sustainability of different models of toothbrushes. The review considers the best oral care devices for the Earth and also what is optimal for human health.
The types of toothbrushes examined as part of the research were the standard plastic manual brush, where all components are in place; brushes made out of bamboo manual;plastic brushes with replaceable heads; and electric toothbrushes, consisting of a handle and charging unit, with replaceable heads.
As well as being needed for dental health, the toothbrush represents big business. Approximately 3.5 billion toothbrushes are sold worldwide each year .In the U.S. alone alone consumers spend out $2 billion annually on mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes and dental floss.
The downside of this global demand, especially with the plastic toothbrush, is the impact on the environment. Some one billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away every year in the U.S., and this disposal creates 50 million pounds of waste annually.
For the assessment, the scientists looked at various manufacturing models and then assessed the environmental impact (carbon footprint) plus the human health impact. The key finding was that the electric toothbrush was comparatively harmful for planetary health.
In terms of human health impact, the study also found that the electric toothbrush leads to 10 hours of disability as measured in Disability-Adjusted Life years (DALYS), impacting on those who are tasked with producing and manufacturing the devices. This stands at five times higher than a normal plastic brush.
Turning conventional thinking on its head, the most environmentally sustainable toothbrush was not bamboo. Instead, coming out top was a recycled plastic toothbrush.
The researchers are calling for an integrated global system whereby plastic toothbrushes can be collected, much like batteries, and then recycled into new toothbrushes.
The research has been published in the British Dental Journal, with the research titled "Combining evidence-based healthcare with environmental sustainability: using the toothbrush as a model."
More about Toothbrush, Environment, Ecology, Teeth, Cleaning
 
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