plastic waste

The lifecycle of a plastic toothbrush

The quick journey from oil well to landfill…


People often ask us “why toothbrushes?

How can such a small and seemingly harmless object be causing so much harm to Mother Earth?

We all brush – it’s a ritual we undertake every day from scrubbing our first little baby tooth that pops out of our innocent gummy smiles, right through to that one last 93-year-old pearly white that’s somehow still hanging in there. It’s the norm for us to chew on a stick of plastic day in day out. Once that plastic toothbrush is past its best before date or just totally knackered, we throw it away without a second thought. But when you actually stop to examine this habit, it becomes pretty obvious why things need to change.

Your regular plastic toothbrush starts its life as oil. The initial cost of simply finding the oil can span into the hundreds of millions of pounds, and take years of work. It’s a big industry, and takes a lot of effort, incurring significant carbon footprint before the oil is even out of the ground. After years of research and seemingly endless seismic surveying, an oil well is built. Once this ancient gooey black stuff is out in the fresh air, it’s chucked into barrels and loaded onto trucks. The oil is then transported by road and sea to the local (not very local) refinery, where it is then separated into its various fractions via a distillation column. The hydrocarbons produced can be chemically reacted in a polymerisation reaction, which leads to the formation of plastic pellets. These little plastic pellets are then bagged up and shipped off to their new life – they’re going to become a toothbrush! In the toothbrush factory, plastic pellets are turned into nice colourful handles. They’re given a nylon hair-do and are packaged into a plastic box. After being shipped across the world they are redistributed nationally across stores.

By the time you put your toothbrush in your mouth, that little guy has had a hell of a journey, and it’s only just beginning. A few months down the line – he’s on the road again. This dude is indestructible, and no one wants him anymore. His short life should be coming to an end but he’s sticking around for the foreseeable future. Once in the bin, your toothbrush is either going to landfill where it will sit for hundreds and hundreds of years, before breaking down and leeching harmful pollutants into the soil and water. If that doesn’t happen, it’s getting incinerated. All the carbon that’s been nicely locked away in the oil for millennia, will now be released into the environment causing yet more climate changing greenhouse gases. Yay. Option 3 is no less evil: your toothbrush will somehow make it onto one of the many cargo vessels which ships waste back across the world for “recycling”. Waste like this often reaches it’s final destination just to be tossed into another landfill, or sometimes an open air dump. From here it can easily find its way into water courses and into the ocean, where it will remain, with all its other throw away plastic buddies, for a thousand years.

See where we’re coming from? 

We get it, plastic is useful. This article was written on a plastic key board. Plastic has helped advance our society – its easy to manipulate, easy it make, and it lasts forever – which is precisely why we shouldn’t make throw away objects out of it, and is precisely the reason we started Bristle. We want to make brushing with plastic a thing of the past. We want the alternative to be better, cheaper and more convenient. We want you to change the way you brush your teeth, and every time you use a Bristle, you might just think of some other changes you can make in your life to reduce your plastic footprint.

To order your new Bristle bamboo toothbrush and make the switch to brushing with bamboo, sign up here or click here to find out more.

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