We've got a problem... but that doesn’t mean we can’t dream while taking small steps!
At Life UNpacked, we want Canadians to have all the information before making their purchase. So, let’s start with the elephant in the room: no bamboo toothbrush is perfect, including ours & our competitors.
That felt good! Now let’s see why... but also why traditional toothbrushes are way worse than “green” alternatives.
The Handle Composition
Traditional toothbrushes (aka plastic toothbrushes) are made of… plastic! Usually 100% plastic from the handle to the bristles.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen alternatives to these full plastic toothbrushes and the most popular one has been bamboo. Bamboo toothbrushes are a sustainable product, that grow fast, requires little water and no pesticides. No wonder it has grown in popularity over the years.
Ok so let’s ditch the plastic handle for a bamboo one; it's a pretty easy thing to do! Now let’s look at the bristles, because that’s where it gets tricky.
The Bristle Composition
Bristles are what touch your teeth and gum so it’s the most important part of your toothbrush.
The first toothbrushes used boar hair, and you can still find some on the market today but it doesn’t seem very appealing to a lot of people. It also raises the question of animal treatment and more. While it crossed our mind to use these bristles we decided not to, for now.
Once humankind figured out how to use crude oil to make plastic, we created a material called nylon. It is often used for bamboo toothbrush bristles. Because it is made of petroleum, it is not compostable and biodegradable, and not very easy to recycle. But it does clean your teeth with a soft yet firm feel while not being too harsh. Nylon 6 is most commonly used while Nylon 4 is supposed to be biodegradable. But so far, no company has been able to provide a toothbrush with Nylon 4 bristles (it’s hard to come across and need to biodegrade in a specific environment). Some companies use Nylon 1010 (aka Castor Oil), which is biodegradable like to Nylon 4 bamboo toothbrushes.
Full disclaimer, we currently use nylon 6 for our bristles & are looking into different options.
Our ultimate goal is to find the best alternatives for you and the planet, so we’re embarking on this journey with you.
So, what are the alternatives?
Jute & Sisal
Although they seemed very promising because they are made from natural fibers, both their characteristics and properties don’t hold against nylon. Jute is too soft and won’t remove plaque as effectively; Sisal on the contrary is too harsh.
This is a vast term referencing a lot of different materials, processes and properties. Not all bioplastics are equals. Overall, the really big advantage the reduction of our dependence on fossil fuel as we can create plastics from another raw material. It is important to know however that most bioplastics act like plastic. You can’t just simply toss it into your compost because it comes from a plant. Bioplastics are still heavily processed. However, it is scientifically possible for them to biodegrade, if the right conditions are respected. But that’s the tricky part; the end-of-life-cycle of bioplastics, how can we bring those bioplastics (or other conventional plastic) to the right facility so it can be recycled or biodegraded and not harm the environment.
Focus on Castor Oil
Castor Bean plants grow very well, and aggressively in warm climates. They contain poisonous ricin that is inedible (so it’s not taking food away from anyone). When transformed into oil, it is then processed into a granulated form. Castor Bean Oil is part of the bioplastic family. Life UNpacked heavily considered this option in our research and decision to expand our product line; however, based on research & discussion with experts in the waste industry the benefits to castor oil bristles are marginal. Life UNpacked will not be selling Castor Bean Oil bamboo toothbrushes at the moment. These bristles don't fix all the problems surrounding the end of life of bamboo toothbrushes, even though it does address the carbon emission from the raw material; and a small step in the right direction - but the impact is to marginal... borderline greenwashing. So we're focusing our attention elsewhere to make the most impact possible.
Wow, what!? Yes, you read that correctly. An alternative bristle type that is being tested & developed amongst the avid environmentalist are animal hair toothbrushes. These bristle are the only bristle than degrade completely into bioavailable material in a backyard compost & do not require any industrial composting. This means you're whole toothbrushes can go in your backyard compost.
The obvious concern is where the hair is coming from... as we know many vegan may question this source altogether, but here is the reality. Pork & horses are eaten in Asia. The animal hairs are thrown away, wasted. These animal hair bristles are made from that waste, upcycled into new value, & developed to bring people a 100% plastic-free toothbrush.
The change to a 100% plastic-free toothbrush made from upcycled animal hair might be hard to grasp, but until the world stops eating pork & horses the supply of animal hair that would otherwise we wasted can be captured to create a possible solution to the plastic pollution with 100% plastic-free eco-friendly bamboo toothbrushes.
The Future of Toothbrushes
Scientists, industrials and governments haven’t found the perfect toothbrush bristle material that will solve everyone's problems… yet! But with all the technological advancements we hope that someone will find the right material to solve the bristle nightmare, or delivery widespread advanced waste management practices. If you hear about any new initiative or if you’re the one that has found THE solution, don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to hearing from you on how we can improve our products.
In conclusion, switching to a bamboo handle toothbrush is an easy first step towards reducing your use of plastic. It won’t save the world, but it is an easy first step that we can all take.
Life UNpacked - Our plan for Canadians.
We are considering developing an animal hair toothbrush, but are still validating the sources & testing these animal hair toothbrushes. Later this year, we MIGHT launch a new 100% plastic-free bamboo toothbrush that is backyard compostable that contains no bioplastics, no petroleum plastics, and is the true solution to toothbrush pollution.