Brushing Your Teeth With Plastic:
OK, we’re not going to try to wean you from using toothbrushes…well…sort of. Although most toothbrushes of the world are made of plastic, we have to admit they’re very handy and, for the most part, do the trick. But once we started seeing a lot of toothbrushes lying on our favorite beaches, my children and I had to look into whether there are any environmentally-friendly alternatives. First, why are toothbrushes found on our beaches? Think, seeping sewage. Around our lovely little island, there are some old sewage pipes that are known to dump right into Puget Sound. And, you guessed it, people are flushing their plastics down the toilet. You can only imagine what other plastics we find, like tampon applicators and those single-use plastic floss applicator thingies.
Why are we concerned about brushing our teeth with plastic? Many toothbrushes are made with PVC and Bisphenol-A, known toxins that, frankly, should be banned from all toothbrushes. If you’re considering reducing your plastic footprint in the toothbrush department in the future, I found this great guide to BPA and PVC-free toothbrushes that might help you choose one less toxic. I also like to see what Beth Terry has to say on the subject, as she has put a lot of care into her research. Here are 4 less plastic alternatives that my family has tried:
1) We first got ourselves some bamboo toothbrushes and have enjoyed them immensely. Combined with our zero waste toothpaste, they’ve been getting our teeth and gums clean in a plastic-free way. When we’re done with the toothbrushes, they’ll be used as kindling for the fire or could even go into our compost!
2) My toothbrush before the bamboo one was a Radius toothbrush, made of recycled wood with a replaceable head. I love it, used it for years, replacing the head periodically until a crack developed where the head meets the handle. It was a good half-way alternative, but the large size did prove a bit cumbersome for travel. (However, on expeditions, just bringing the head was perfect for cutting down on weight)
3) Toothbrush before Radius, and a travel alternative that I used, was the Preserve toothbrush which I bought in a mail-back pouch that I promptly lost. Preserve takes back their toothbrushes when you’re done with them and recycles them along with other #5 plastics through their Gimme5 campaign. Many Wholefoods Markets have bins where you can drop off your toothbrush, along with dairy tubs like yogurt containers produced by Stonyfield Yogurt. These cradle-to-cradle practices are growing and we applaud Preserve, Wholefoods, and Stonyfield for making this a reality.
4) But (you knew I’d say that), plastic is plastic (it’s hard for me to imagine that there are zero health concerns about putting plastic in our mouths, now that I’ve been keeping up with the latest toxicology reports on plastics and the additives put in them.) And once you go down the plastic-free-living path, you start looking around for ALL your options and inevitably discover how people lived and kept their teeth clean long before plastic was invented. Which leads me to….”the traditional natural toothbrush”: Peelu miswaks.
Miswak Sticks are the New Toothbrush in Our Home
Now, these things are cool. And if you want to impress your next guests, rather than handing them a guest toothbrush to use, slip ’em a miswak stick and let ’em start chewing. Just as Native Americans once used bark for teeth cleaning, in Pakistan the peelu tree has for centuries been the traditional teeth cleaner of choice. I won’t pretend to be an expert, here, but after I read this fantastic article by Nourishing Treasures, I had to get me some miswak sticks.
The kids and I enjoyed them for many months. And it’s no wonder since they’re reportedly known to entice the companionship of angels, aid in digestion and even improve eyesight. These things leave my teeth feeling cleaner than they’ve ever been! And then I read this clinical study which proves that the use of the miswak outdistances toothbrushing in terms of removing plaque and overall gingival health. I quote, for you, the study’s conclusion:
“It is concluded that the miswak is more effective than toothbrushing for reducing plaque and gingivitis, when preceded by professional instruction in its correct application. The miswak appeared to be more effective than toothbrushing for removing plaque from the embrasures, thus enhancing interproximal health.”
Now to just get that “professional instruction” and we’ll be laughing all the way to the dentist. Any professionals out there, feel free to provide instruction in our comments section below. Yes, the miswak sticks are sealed in plastic, but for argument’s sake it’s less plastic than in a traditional toothbrush.
Reuse Your Toothbrushes
Unable to throw things out because of our zero waste lifestyle, we’ve accumulated quite a few plastic toothbrushes in our day. But it turns out old toothbrushes can come in handy. Here are 25 wonderful things that can be done with that little versatile brush (once you’ve retired it from use in your mouth):
1) Use it to clean hard-to-clean places.
2) Pass it on to your dog for brushing his/her teeth. (Yes, sanitize it first!)
3) Keep one with your craft supplies to be used as a special stiff paintbrush for art projects.
4) Clean corn.
5) Use as a grout scrubber.
6) Keep one under the sink for scrubbing around faucets and sink edges.
7) Label another one for use as a fingernail cleaner after gardening.
8) Keep one in the car glove box for emergency assistance like brushing off battery terminals.
9) Put one in your child’s “scientist backpack” for archaeology outings. A toothbrush is a critical artifact cleaning instrument. I can attest to the fact that my son’s spare brush packed in with his archaeological brushes has come in handy for our team of scientists in the excavations we’ve done in the Caves of Mustang.
10) Stash one in your foyer or mud room for cleaning mud from shoes. Keep one in your shoe shine kit for sprucing up drab shoes.
11) Keep one on your tool bench for assisting in cleaning tools.
12) Store one in your cleaning supplies bucket for spot cleaning carpets and furniture.
13) Save one for the laundry room for spot cleaning grease stains, etc.
14) Put one in with your makeup to brush away mascara clumps and to be used as an eyebrow brush.
15) Another one will be wanted on-hand as a back scratcher.
16) Use one for cleaning your bicycle chain.
17) Save one for cleaning jewelry or silverware.
18) Use one to clean out brushes and combs.
19) Some people swear by them as excellent fish tank algae cleaners to scrub algae off the glass.
20) Here’s a reuse idea from our favorite repurpose/reuse website: “For all you fishermen, and women out there, cut the head off the toothbrush, and then drill a hole in either end, attach a swivel to one end and then the hook at the other end, make great spinning lures as they are often bright and multi coloured and the bodies make the perfect shape.”
21) Lift the lid and look at the hinges of your toilet seat. Pretty gross. Use an old toothbrush to make it look (and smell) as good as new.
22) Use as a bottle cleaner for those vintage bottles you collect.
23) Make a toothbrush bracelet.
24) Use your toothbrush as a tool to make a rag rug.
25) For some serious fun, visit Evil Mad Scientist and learn how to make a bristle bot. Decapitate the toothbrush (off with its head!), and affix a teeny, tiny pager motor or (get this) battery-powered toothbrush motor (the sort that make your toothbrush vibrate), as well as a battery (and maybe some LEDs), and of course any googly-eyes you might have lying around and you’ve got yourself a buzzing little bot, bouncing around on bristles.
26) Use one to clean the grooves on your horizontally-sliding windows.
27) One reader wrote in to share that she uses four toothbrushes glued side by side to brush fleece sweaters and blankets after they are washed. It helps to make them look and feel like new.
28) Use one for a hair dye applicator.
29) Use your old toothbrushes to clean your dryer lint trap. Residues can build up and the brushing helps clean that off.
30) Dust and clean the crevices and ledges on hardwood molding with your old brush.
You’ll see the comments section is below. We’re hoping to find some further great ideas, links, instructions, even photos if you have ’em, for toothbrush reuse or waste-free alternatives to tooth-brushing.