Yawn. Stretch. Brush my teeth. The first three things I do after my alarm goes off in the morning. But what is my toothbrush made of? Plastic and sometimes pig hair?! Did you know it takes over 400 years for a plastic toothbrush to decompose? And the average American uses over 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime. All of these will be in a landfill indefinitely! We can easily reduce this insane statistic by making a simple switch to a biodegradable option.
Since the shift of more people coming to the zero-waste lifestyle, the bamboo toothbrush has become a hot commodity. It is by far the most popular alternative to the usual plastic toothbrushes.
The handle is composed of natural bamboo or another type of wood, and the bristles are primarily made of one of three materials; nylon, boar (pig) hair, charcoal, or is plant-based. Each bristle type offers different advantages than the other.
The nylon bristles can be made of either nylon-4 or nylon-6. Nylon-4 has claims that it actually decomposes over time, while nylon-6 does not. Nylon-4 has only really been tested in a lab environment, not in real life. You have to do some research in order to find which type of nylon each company uses. Some do not state it openly on the package, and some make false claims.
The more I research, the more I wonder if nylon-4 truly exists. Most companies that have claimed it in the past have updated their claims, as people send the bristles to a lab to confirm what the material truly is. Nylon is a form of plastic, but will be similar to the bristles you are used to using.
I know some people feel like this isn’t the best option since there is still a little amount of trash from the bristles. However, when you think about the amount of plastic you’ve stopped using in the handle, it is still beneficial for the planet. If you want a fully zero-waste toothbrush, there are other options so keep on reading!
There are also charcoal bristles. Now, a lot of companies simply say, “charcoal bristles”, which leads consumers to assume the bristles are completely made of charcoal. That is untrue. They are another nylon bristle, that is infused with charcoal.
The benefits of using a charcoal infused bamboo toothbrush are only claims, and have not been scientifically studied. But that does not mean that they are not true. The claims are that they can absorb plaque, absorb carbon, and help whiten teeth. Charcoal is porous, so it can absorb and bind bacteria together when brushing. When charcoal absorbs carbon, it absorbs the bacteria that causes stinky breath.
The most commonly known benefit of charcoal, is its whitening properties. I still think that a charcoal paste would work better, but using a charcoal infused toothbrush could be a daily help. The charcoal absorbs tannins, which are the little guys that cause stains. Coffee or wine anyone?
Another option is plant-based bristles. Now, again the bristles are not 100% made out of bamboo. Bamboo would break apart if it were that thin. The company ‘Brush with Bamboo’ offers bristles that are 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon. This is better than 100% nylon.
Be wary of any companies claiming that the entire toothbrush, bristles and all, are 100% biodegradable. They usually are not. And if they are, they probably won’t last nearly as long as the nylon bristles do.
Boar/Pig Hair Bristles
The last option for bristles that I have found, is the boar, or pig hair bristles. Now, these are not vegan friendly as they are made from an animal’s hair. Typically sourced from China’s meat industry, so who knows what chemicals have gone into them. They are also usually harvested after the boar has been slaughtered. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how the pig was treated or if they were slaughtered inhumanely. I have yet to find a brand of toothbrushes that advertises humanely harvested boar hair bristles. I hope one day there is, because boar hair is 100% biodegradable.
What I Use
Personally, I find the plant-based bristle bamboo toothbrushes to be the best alternative for me and my family. They are not 100% biodegradable, but I can remove the bristles and reuse or compost my bamboo handle. That’s a huge amount of plastic I am already saving from no longer using a fully plastic toothbrush. The nylon and charcoal are great, too. I will stay away from the boar hair bristles until a humanely harvesting company opens up, myself. However, if that choice works for you, go for it!
Neem or Miswak Chewing Sticks
Neem? Miswak? What are these strange things? The miswak is also called miswaak, siwak, and sewak. It is a twig from the Salvadora Persica, or Peelu tree, native to the Middle East and Africa. It is essentially, a chewing stick. It has been used for over 7000 years and you don’t need toothpaste. The stick mixed with your saliva does the job, wonderfully. The best part is it is 100% biodegradable! In addition to that, it’s been proven to reduce plaque, whiten teeth, fight odor and bacteria, and even help with nicotine addictions.
How do you use it? After you purchase your amazing Miswak stick, you chew on one side of it until it gets soft. Once it starts looking like bristles, it’s time to brush! When your bristles start looking worn, you can chew more down or trim it for fresh bristles.
Note that it may take longer than a typical toothbrush to fully clean. If you choose this amazing alternative, don’t skimp on your teeth. The health of your teeth is very important. Also, realize these sticks have a somewhat mild bitter taste. I’ve heard it described as tasting like essential oils. For some people it is too strong of a taste, for others, they said it was very easy to get used to. I definitely think it is worth the try. If it doesn’t work for you, though, you’ve always got your bamboo toothbrushes!
I have seen miswak chewing sticks at my local farmers market plastic free. However, when I tried to provide a link for my readers to be able to find them, all I could find was he sticks individually packaged in saran wrap. This pretty much makes it useless to us as we are reducing the amount of plastic trash we create. I did find these Swak toothbrushes. They have a handle of PLA (read all about that here) which is a biodegradable plastic. The brush is made out of miswak and the stick parts are replaceable. The design even looks like you would be able to get those back molars way better than with the original stick.
Tooth Paste Alternatives
So you’ve got your toothbrush solution. Congratulations on that huge step! Now, what about that plastic toothpaste tube? An estimated 1.5 billion plastic toothpaste tubes are thrown out yearly. It is a problem that is overlooked and many people don’t think about. There are a few alternatives we can switch to. Either a homemade recipe, tooth tabs, tooth powder, or tooth paste in a reusable/refillable container.
I love making things at home! I know a lot of people (my sister, to be exact) who think I’m crazy and that there is something wrong with homemade products. For her and people like her, this won’t be the alternative for them. If you’re on the fence, you can always try it and see how it goes.
I like to keep it simple and quick. The less ingredients, the better! Most recipes I have found contain coconut oil (the binder), baking soda (a mild abrasive for cleaning), and essential oil (flavoring and antibacterial). Some also include xylitol, an artificial sweetener. I prefer not to, but if you do, it helps the paste not be so salty, which comes from the baking soda.
4 tablespoons liquid coconut oil
2-4 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon xylitol or another artificial sweetener that is safe for teeth
20 drops each of essential oils (I love peppermint. Some people enjoy cinnamon or cloves which contain antibacterial properties)
Small Jar for storing
1. Mix all your ingredients together, well.
That’s it! Told you I like my at home recipes simple and quick. You can always tweak the flavor to your liking. I love this recipe because it’s with ingredients I always have at home.
Another alternative is tooth tabs. What is a tooth tab? Just that, a little tab that looks kind of like a breath mint. It breaks apart like a powder in your mouth. You simply add water and brush. I used to use the ones from Lush, but they come in a plastic jar which is what we are avoiding. Hopefully, one day they will switch it up.
There are two brands I love, Unpaste and Bite. I use the Unpaste from wellearthgoods.com because it is the most reasonably priced and the packaging is fully compostable. You can purchase a 2 month supply of 125 tabs (That’s 4 months for me, because I normally forget to brush at night) for $14! They send the Unpaste in fully compstable bags of non-GMO cornstarch, that I can dispose of in my compost.
The other brand is Bite from bitetoothpastebits.com. They are a little pricier, but I love what they do. They send you a glass container once, then they send your refills in compostable pouches. It costs $12/month if you purchase each month. Or you can get 4 months for $30, which comes out to $7.50/month.
Tooth Powders and Tooth Pastes
There are also tooth powders and pastes, similar to the homemade recipe I provided above. The powders will require you to add water or coconut oil, while the pastes are ready to go. Some use bentonite clay or other essential oils.
I’ve seen these pastes come in glass jars with a metal lid and others come in a recyclable metal tube. One brand of tooth powder with good ratings is the Georganics. I’ve seen it at Urban Outfitters, and they carry it online at the packagefreeshop.com. It comes in a glass container, a tin top, and sent in recyclable paper. It is $10 for 2 oz.
The toothpaste in the recyclable metal tube is called David’s natural toothpaste. It’s only 9.95 on Amazon. This is not the best alternative, but I’d you’re looking to switch to something similar to what you’re using, and don’t like the paste in the glass jars, this is the way to go.
Dental Floss and Mouthwash Alternatives
Let’s take a moment and think about how we buy our dental floss. For me, I used to just pop into the dollar store, pick up a $1 package and that was that. There was a plastic package, then the plastic container the floss came out of, and then the floss itself was plastic. The fact that it was that cheap, too, just makes me wonder, what was I thinking? It definitely had so many chemicals and toxins that I was putting in my mouth daily! Fast forward to today, I’m much more educated and doing my best for the environment and my health. Which goes hand in hand.
Dental Lace is a great brand that uses silk as their floss rather than the typical nylon. It’s coated in candelila wax and comes in a glass container. I see this one around my hometown all the time in places like Whole Foods and Richards.
A lot of people don’t think about using a water flosser. This creates no waste unless the machine breaks. We’ve had one since I was younger and it still works. It’s a machine that shoots pressurized water between your teeth. The only problem is that it’s not great for traveling.
Silk, Cotton, or Your Hair
There’s also cotton or silk thread or even hair you could try. I know hair has been used for flossing since ancient times, but I’m not a fan. The threads, on the other hand, that I would use if I had ran out of my dental lace.
Not nearly as many people use mouthwash, but for those who do, it’s usually made out of a container from plastic. There are homemade recipes, or mouthwash tabs to avoid that container. The homemade recipes usually contain distilled water, baking soda, essential oils, and sometimes xylitol. I haven’t tweaked my homemade mouthwash to a taste I enjoy, so I use Georganics mouthwash tablets. You just drop a tab into water, and you have mouthwash. It comes in a glass container of 720 tablets for $14.99 on Amazon.com
We Are Making A Difference
From switching what I use first thing in the morning every single day, I am eliminating so much waste that would have been on our planet for millennium. Not only that, but the ingredients are healthier so I can be satisfied with what I am putting in my mouth. Whether it’s your toothbrush, paste, floss, our mouthwash, just one switch to an alternative makes a difference.