Since the 1970s, eco-conscious consumers – myself included! – have been reminding themselves to reduce, reuse, and recycle. After all, how we throw away old items can be as important as what we buy in the first place.
You probably know the best way to discard soda bottles and cardboard boxes. When it comes to everyday items like your toothbrush, though, the answers aren’t as clear.
Are toothbrushes recyclable? Yes — but you must use a special recycling program.
What Are Toothbrushes Made Of?
Toothbrush handles can be made from a variety of moldable plastics. Some of the most common plastics include polyethylene and polypropylene.
Modern toothbrushes feature nylon bristles. Nylon is yet another type of plastic.
Of course, the toothbrush has come a long way since its invention in the 15th or 16th century. So, what were toothbrushes made of before plastic?
In the past, you would find toothbrush handles made of wood or bone. The most popular material for toothbrush bristles was natural boar hair.
Are Toothbrushes Bad for the Environment?
Are toothbrushes inherently harmful? No.
But toothbrushes account for an incredible amount of plastic waste impacting our world.
How Many Toothbrushes Go To Landfills?
Let’s do some math:
The United States alone discards up to one billion toothbrushes each year. The vast majority of these toothbrushes are plastic.
The average rate of plastic recycling is only around 9%. That means 91% of all plastics get thrown in the normal trash.
What do all of these numbers mean? Up to 50 million pounds of plastic waste enter landfills each year… just from toothbrushes discarded in the U.S.
What About Non-Plastic Toothbrushes?
Toothbrushes (and dental hygiene as a whole) are a necessity of modern life. Doing away with toothbrushes isn’t an option. Instead, many people are seeking out eco-friendly alternatives.
The most popular alternatives are made of bamboo.
While bamboo toothbrush handles are compostable, most still rely on nylon bristles. Nylon bristles must be removed and discarded separately.
So, Are Toothbrushes Recyclable?
Yes. Recycling is the best way to dispose of used toothbrushes.
Throwing your old toothbrushes in the trash will only add to the mound of plastic sitting in landfills around the world.
To minimize the environmental impact of your dental hygiene routine, it’s important to recycle your toothbrushes.
Can I Recycle My Plastic Toothbrush?
Yes, though the toothbrush recycling process might not be as simple as you think.
We recycle plastic all of the time. The plastic used to create toothbrushes, however, is different.
Most toothbrushes are made of multiple types of plastic bonded together. They also feature nylon bristles. To successfully reuse these materials for new products, each plastic must be separated. This requires a special process that very few recycling centers offer.
Can You Put Toothbrushes In The Recycle Bin?
You can’t put used toothbrushes in the household recycling bin and expect them to go to good use. If you do, there’s a very good chance your local sorting center will just redirect them to a landfill.
Municipal recycling centers aren’t built to recycle composite plastics like the ones used to make toothbrushes. Instead, you’ll need to send your toothbrushes to a specialized recycling program.
Do You Pull The Bristles Out Of A Toothbrush To Recycle?
It’s typically not necessary to remove the bristles from a plastic toothbrush before recycling.
You should always remove nylon bristles from biodegradable toothbrushes before recycling or composting. Once removed, the bristles can be recycled through a program that accepts nylon.
How To Recycle A Toothbrush
Many of the largest dental brands recognize the need to recycle old toothbrushes.
These are just a few of the free recycling programs that will accept used toothbrushes, floss containers, toothpaste tubes and caps, and other oral care products:
- Crest and Oral-B Recycle on Us
- Colgate Oral Care Recycling Program
- Tom’s of Maine Natural Care Recycling Program
What About Electric Toothbrushes — Are They Recyclable?
While there’s no such a thing as an eco-friendly electric toothbrush that is 100% eco, in many ways, electric toothbrushes are more sustainable than manual ones. At least, until it comes time to dispose of them.
Electric toothbrushes shouldn’t go in your regular garbage. You can’t put them in the recycle bin, either.
Along with being made of non-biodegradable plastic, rechargeable toothbrushes have batteries. These batteries contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the environment when dumped in a landfill.
How Do You Dispose Of A Rechargeable Toothbrush?
The safest and most eco-friendly way to dispose of a rechargeable toothbrush is through an electronics recycling program. This is also the best option if you’re wondering how to recycle old electric toothbrush chargers and other accessories.
Local programs that accept cell phones, batteries, and other electronic devices will be able to recycle many, if not all, of your old toothbrush’s components.
What Do You Do With Old Toothbrush Heads?
The process to recycle an electric toothbrush head vs. a manual toothbrush is nearly identical. After all, electric brush heads feature the same materials as manual toothbrushes.
To dispose of used toothbrush heads, use one of the oral care recycling programs mentioned above.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should You Change Your Toothbrush?
According to the American Dental Association, you should replace your toothbrush every three to four months. Following these guidelines, the average person will consume 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime.
Are Plastic Toothbrushes Biodegradable?
No. Once a plastic toothbrush ends up in a landfill, it will take several hundred years to break down.
Discarded plastic never truly disappears. It only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, infiltrating the natural environment in potentially harmful ways.
Are Oral-B / Colgate Toothbrushes Recyclable?
You can recycle toothbrushes from all major dental brands, including Oral-B and Colgate, using a special recycling program.
Most of these recycling programs accept oral care products from other companies. There’s no need to worry about sorting your recyclables by brand!
Are Toothbrush Bristles Recyclable?
Nylon, the material most toothbrush bristles are made of, is one of the hardest plastics to recycle. Only specialty recycling programs will accept and process this material.
Don’t be fooled by toothbrush bristles that seem to be made out of other materials. For example, charcoal bristles are not biodegradable. They are still partially made of nylon.
Unless a toothbrush uses boar hair, it’s safe to assume that they aren’t biodegradable or compostable.
Is There An Eco-Friendly Electric Toothbrush?
In recent years, many companies have been working to deliver green dental hygiene by releasing more eco-friendly electric toothbrushes.
No matter which model you choose, switching to an electric toothbrush can cut down on plastic waste overall. Look for an electric toothbrush that features long-lasting bristles, a sustainable battery, minimal plastic, and a long lifespan.
Can Empty Toothpaste Tubes Be Recycled?
Most toothpaste tubes and caps are made of composite plastic that can’t be easily recycled. Keep toothpaste tubes out of your everyday recycling. Submit them to one of the oral care recycling programs linked above, instead.
Can You Recycle Toothbrush Packaging?
Toothbrush packaging is completely separate from the product itself. While your new toothbrush might not be recyclable, there’s a good chance the packaging is.
Most packaging will have a recycling symbol printed or embossed into the material. Be sure to separate out different packaging materials (e.g. plastic and cardboard).