The Plastic Crisis: Rethinking the Toothbrush Design 🤔🦷



Time did not diminish the importance of a toothbrush in the records of human civilisation. The toothbrush has not changed much from its earliest design forms. Presently we cannot imagine a toothbrush without plastic. As a matter of fact, most of us here have never seen a non-plastic toothbrush.

The Ever-present toothbrush

Let’s state the obvious. We start the day by touching our toothbrush. From time immemorial, the toothbrush was made from naturally occurring material. The 20th century and its technological marvels did not leave the toothbrush untouched. Nylon and other forms of plastics were introduced in the design of the toothbrush and since then there was no stopping it.

Plastic and toothbrush design

  • Plastic has completely taken over the design process of the toothbrush.
  • It is unimaginable to not use a polymer-based toothbrush to clean our teeth.
  • Plastic is not bio-degradable. This leads to the conclusion that every single plastic toothbrush that was manufactured from the 1930s is still somewhere in the world lying as trash.
  • Now environmentally conscious designers are showing interest to re-invent the basic design of the toothbrush in a way that will decrease the strain on the planet.

Is toothbrush the best thing that happened to us?

  • History gives us a rich account of the importance of toothbrush from ancient times. From Buddha, Pliny to the famous Roman historians, there are detailed accounts on the uses and importance of toothbrush and dental care.
  • In early times a toothbrush consisted of densely packed boar bristles connected with a wooden handle. This design of the toothbrush remained the same across the centuries.
  • This design of the toothbrush remained the same across the centuries.
  • The toothbrush in the present times is omnipresent. But it wasn’t always like that. In the early 1920s, only one out of four people in the USA had a toothbrush.

Interesting facts of the modern toothbrush

  • An average person uses at least 300 toothbrushes over his lifetime.
  • Toothbrushes cannot be recycled since their small parts jam the recycling machinery
  • The total toothbrushes thrown out in the U.S if laid in a row can envelop the earth four times.

Transition to Plastic

In the early 20th century, dental hygiene assumed an important role in the society. In a way, it was patriotic to have a good set of teeth.

  • Cultural elements also propagated the view that good dental hygiene indicated the absence of disease. There was a massive bump in the usage of toothbrushes and the trend has continued ever since.
  • The advent of cheap manufacturing processes using different plastic compounds led to the revolution of plastic toothbrushes.
  • The discovery of new stable mixtures made out of nitrocellulose and camphor led to an explosion of toothbrush handles.
  • It was just a matter of time before bristles surrendered to the allure of synthetics. In 1938, Japan developed Nylon for military applications. This material turned out to be the ideal replacement for the costly and delicate boar bristles.
  • Capitalism and its marketing strategies catapulted the popularity of toothbrushes. An American company started advertising about the new line of nylon-made toothbrushes, stressing on attributes like “total waterproofing” and “longer life”.

Since then, the plastic-free toothbrushes were completely taken over by the multiple variants of plastic in both handle and bristle design.

3-pronged strategy to transform the plastic toothbrush design

It cannot be stressed enough on the negative effects of the plastic toothbrushes on our local ecosystems and global environment. It is important to take a proactive stand on the makeover of the plastic toothbrush to eco-friendly design.

Now more than ever we need to be a part of the solution, not the pollution that is creating ripples in the sustainable development of the planet.

  • Bamboo brushes are an effective alternative provided they are disposed of in the correct way.
  • Select a brush with a handle that can be reused.
  • Enter into correspondence with your toothbrush company and bear upon them to stop plastic pollution by creating non-plastic prototypes of toothbrushes.

Bamboo Toothbrush - Shop to Stop Plastic

Does the future point to a plastic-free toothbrush?

The winds of change are again blowing on the toothbrush design.

  • Designers are now looking for innovative ways as to how this fundamental object can be recast in a way which involves zero usage of plastic or maybe very little.
  • The aim to re-invent the toothbrush design is consistent with the sweeping global opinion to reduce the use of plastic.
  • Present trends indicate that the U.S alone has a turnover of a billion toothbrushes annually. If we apply the same model on a global scale, that would be a gigantic 23 billion toothbrushes in the trash.

The Recycling Dilemma

  • Majority of the toothbrushes cannot be recycled.
  • This is due to the composite nature of toothbrush plastic which is quite impossible to recycle in an efficient way.

Non-plastic alternatives

  • Eco-conscious companies are now in the process of developing natural alternatives such as the usage of wood and boar bristles.
  • This can provide a partial solution as the bamboo handle toothbrushes have nylon bristles.
  • New designs are focusing on dense packing of high-quality bristles which have a higher life cycle and a lower rate of replacement per year.
  • An old toothbrush design is now looking promising. Toothbrushes with detachable heads. The handles are metallic in nature which need not be replaced for years to come.
  • When the bristles of the headwear down, then a new head can replace the old one. In this way, the trash factor of the toothbrush can be reduced to 30 per cent of the original.

The way forward

  • It is not an easy task to entirely replace plastic from the toothbrush. There are concerns regarding the environmental efficacy of biodegradable plastics that are touted to replace the original plastic compounds.
  • Given their complicated eco-footprint, the jury is still out on the use of bio-plastics as a safe alternative to the traditional plastic in toothbrushes. There is little consensus on the quantum of time it takes for a bio-degradable material to breakdown completely.
  • But any alternative that reduces the importance of plastic used in toothbrushes is a welcome step. Making people think twice about the plastic toothbrushes they use for daily teeth cleaning is indeed a foundation for sustainable solutions to come in the near future.

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  • Sofia Mendez
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