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Can You Recycle Electric Toothbrush Heads?

Row of electric toothbrush heads

Key takeaways

It is possible to recycle electric toothbrush heads via specialist programmes and take back schemes.

But at the moment they can’t be recycled with your normal household waste.

As with manual toothbrushes, this is because they are made of a mixture of materials, which are difficult to separate.

They also use nylon bristles, which cannot be recycled in the mainstream facilities currently available.

We have a separate article that explains more about recycling toothbrush bristles.

There are some toothbrush heads which advertise themselves as more environmentally friendly, but at the moment there isn’t much evidence when it comes to supporting this. I’ll go into more detail below.

Ultimately, to recycle an electric toothbrush head, it will need to go to a specialist facility.

You can do this via schemes such as TerraCycle or through manufacturer take back schemes.

Recycling brush heads from Oral-B, Sonicare & Colgate 

There are many different electric toothbrush manufacturers. The most widely known are Oral-B/Braun/Crest, Philips/Sonicare and Colgate.

Each one has its own specific toothbrush heads which only fit its electric toothbrushes.

TerraCycle, a specialist recycling company, works together with brands to provide free recycling programmes for oral care products and packaging (as well as other hard to recycle items).

TerraCycle rewards collectors with donations to schools, charities and non profit organisations.

For an in depth explanation about TerraCycle schemes, see our page about recycling toothbrushes.

Colgate

Colgate brush head

Colgate does have a partnership with TerraCycle, which we detail in this post.

You can take your Colgate toothbrush heads to the participating location for the Colgate TerraCycle scheme.

Alternatively you can order your own Zero Waste Box directly from TerraCycle and recycle your Colgate toothbrush heads there.

Philips Sonicare

Sonicare Brush Head Range

Philips/Sonicare does not have its own scheme set up with TerraCycle in Australia.

You can recycle your Philips/Sonicare toothbrush heads through the TerraCycle schemes sponsored by Colgate.

Of course, you can also recycle your Philips toothbrush heads using your own Zero Waste Box.

Oral-B

Oral-B Brush Head Range

Oral-B does not have its own scheme set up with TerraCycle in Australia.

You can recycle your Philips/Sonicare toothbrush heads through the TerraCycle schemes sponsored by Colgate.

Of course, you can also recycle your Philips toothbrush heads using your own Zero Waste Box.

Brush head manufacturers offering take back schemes

There are also several brush head manufacturers that offer take back systems. They accept returns of their own products, but not brushes which are bought elsewhere.

They  have priced the recycling process into their brush heads, so normally the return is free.

You post the items back to the company you ordered from, and they arrange for recycling. 

This simplifies the recycling process for you, as the company has done the legwork and knows where to send your brush to. These are convenient, as you just send the toothbrush back in the post.

These are sometimes advertised as “closed loop” systems. So long as all of the materials put into the system are usable at the end, this is true. 

The companies offering the take back systems rarely give evidence to support these claims and so they should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Some of the companies simply pass your items on to TerraCycle, but charge you for postage so you are losing money — do beware of that.

In fact, the overall benefit of this model is still unproven. In the US Radius actually opted against this model because it calculated that shipping products back negated the benefits. Their calculations have not been published, though.  

Also consider that even though the brush heads are being “recycled”, the overall process of owning an electric toothbrush still has a significant impact on the environment, especially compared to owning a manual one.

LiveCoCo

Livecoco brush heads

LiveCoCo widely advertises their brushes as being eco-friendly. 

Yes, they offer a take back scheme with free returns for recycling. But the actual brushes are not necessarily more environmentally friendly. There is nothing about the materials used in the brush head itself that makes it better than a regular electric toothbrush head.

Live Coco either enclose an envelope (if you have ordered 12 toothbrush heads) or offer the “cheapest postage cost applicable for your country after having received your return: and provide more information here. They only accept their own branded toothbrush heads.

Their website says  they have created their own “Closed-Loop Recycling System rather than relying on any third party recycling scheme”. But they also say they collect the brushes to send off in bulk to be recycled. It isn’t clear where they actually send them, and it’s misleading to call this their own closed loop system seeing as they are outsourcing!

They have an address for the UK, USA and Australia.  

But when it comes to the brush itself, they do not provide any information on the exact materials used. There is nothing to make it more eco-friendly than most manufacturers. 

The packaging is, however, plastic free.

LiveCoCo is also slightly missing the point with this article about  whether or not electric toothbrushes are the most sustainable option. The article, released in 2021, misses out on recent studies which have proven electric toothbrushes to be the least environmentally friendly option.

Overall, it’s great to see a company doing something. But you could buy toothbrush heads from anywhere and recycle them via a Terracycle scheme.

Do “eco-friendly electric toothbrush heads” exist? 

Being recyclable does not automatically make something environmentally friendly. 

This is true for electric toothbrush heads too.

There are some alternative materials used for toothbrush heads which manufacturers will tell you make them eco-friendly.

One of the best options for an environmentally friendly toothbrush head would be to use recycled plastic material. The only example of this I have come across are these Green Clean Toothbrush Heads from Jordan, although they are not widely available at the moment.

Yes, there can be a slight improvement by avoiding certain materials. But some materials actually make the recycling process more difficult.

For example, bio-based plastics, where the starting material is plant based as opposed to oil based, is a reasonable alternative. There is less impact on the environment in terms of taking a finite resource and using a renewable resource instead. This can reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the need for damaging drilling for petroleum. 

Bio-based plastics are an alternative to petroleum based plastics, but do not help us to reduce our reliance on difficult to recycle materials. Bioplastics and bio-based plastics are discussed in more detail in our post about the most eco-friendly toothbrushes.

The terms “plant-based” and “plastic free” are not regulated and are often used misleadingly to make you think a product is more environmentally friendly than it is.

A plastic made from plants is still a plastic. It still needs to be recycled effectively when you are finished, otherwise it can contaminate land and water sources.

Some plastics are labelled as “biodegradable”. Firstly, these do not have certification to confirm this. Secondly, when placed into regular recycling streams these different types of plastic can damage the equipment. 

Examples of bio-based plastic being used for electric toothbrush heads include:

  • Plus Ultra
  • TIO brush heads — we reviewed these a long time ago and the heads were unavailable for quite a while, but are now back on sale here

What about bamboo electric toothbrush heads?

Other materials for electric toothbrush heads have also been proposed. As is common with dental products, bamboo electric toothbrush heads are now starting to make an appearance.

One concern with bamboo is that it is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly material, despite being advertised as so. We cover this in more detail in our article about bamboo electric toothbrushes.

Switching out the material of the handle only solves one problem: less plastic is used. Bamboo can be difficult to recycle unless organic recycling is available. Nylon bristles will still be a problem. 

There is no guarantee that the bamboo is sustainably sourced either. Yes, it is a renewable material. But where the bamboo comes from will have a massive contribution to the environment.

Examples of bamboo electric toothbrush heads include:

Nylon bristles are the most widely tested. It is important to have the right bristles to ensure effective cleaning and avoid damage on the gums and teeth.

It is possible to have a bio-based nylon, but alternative compostable materials are not currently recommended.

Overall, an electric toothbrush is a less environmentally friendly option than a manual toothbrush. This is because of the additional resources needed to make and transport them, as well as the electricity required to charge them. I explain it in greater detail in my eco-friendly toothbrush article.

What we would like to see from brands that sell brush heads: 

Toothbrush heads are difficult to recycle, and part of that is unavoidable. 

But there are some things that we would like to see from brands who sell such products.

Brands offering take back schemes

  • Greater transparency about what their products are made of
    • Are they made from sustainable alternatives?
    • Explaining why they have chosen the materials they use. 
    • Information about where the toothbrush heads are made.
    • Certification to support any environmental claims.
  • More evidence and detail of the recycling process they undertake.
    • Is processing in house or outsourced?
    • If outsourced, then to who?
    • If it is outsourced, why should you choose that company over any other and then just use TerraCycle?
    • Evidence about how their take back scheme compares to TerraCycle.
  • More transparency about the sustainability efforts of the company e.g. using renewable energy to power the factories.
  • Create products which are easy to recycle in kerbside recycling facilities.

Brands with TerraCycle partnerships

  • Better availability. More locations available so that people can easily drop products off.
  • Clearer explanation of which products are/are not accepted – as there is variation across different sponsored programmes.
  • Transparency about what the sponsors gain from the partnerships and the cost of running the programmes vs profits from resale of recycled plastic.

Brands that don’t yet offer recycling

  • Fund or create schemes that make it simpler for users to send their products for recycling.
  • Create products which are easy to recycle in kerbside recycling facilities.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler, BDS (Hons)

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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