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The Bamboo Electric Toothbrush: Not Necessarily Eco-Friendly

Organically epic bamboo electric toothbrush
Photo from Organically Epic website

Bamboo electric toothbrushes are on the rise. There are now several options available if you are looking for one.

Manufacturers claim these are more eco-friendly than regular electric toothbrushes, and they are appealing to people who want to reduce the amount of plastic they use.

But are bamboo electric toothbrushes a good option for the environment?

Bamboo isn’t necessarily better

There seems to be an obsession with bamboo as a good material for a sustainable toothbrush.

But bamboo electric toothbrushes aren’t necessarily a better option than plastic ones.

At the moment there is no research into this specifically. The only way to be able to compare the carbon footprint of different products is to do a life-cycle analysis. These are lacking for dental products. Unless you see some specific numbers, be cautious about wild claims.

The claim that a bamboo electric toothbrush is eco-friendly seems to be based on the logic that bamboo is always more sustainable than plastic, which isn’t the case.

Bamboo only attempts to solve one problem

Switching out the material of the handle only solves one problem: less plastic is used during manufacturing. 

Yes, there is less oil-based plastic used if components are swapped from plastic to bamboo. In some cases though, the same parts of the toothbrush are still made from plastic and then coated in bamboo.

Other considerations are where the bamboo comes from, transport emissions, and how to dispose of the products and the end of their useful life.

Electric toothbrush handles made from bamboo will still contribute a negative effect compared to manual toothbrushes as they will still require the electric components, and will still be heavy to ship.

Given that transport and manufacturing are the biggest negative impacts of electric toothbrushes, we aren’t solving that problem by simply switching the material of the handle.

The handle will still need to be disposed of in specialist e-waste facilities (find out more about proper disposal here).

How electric toothbrushes impact the environment

As mentioned in my article Is There Such A Thing As An Eco-Friendly Electric Toothbrush, the reasons why electric toothbrushes are not eco-friendly include:

  • The number of unique parts required, and the materials used.
    • Steel
    • Nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries
    • Copper wiring
    • Plastics for casing
  • The power and water required to produce a more complex toothbrush.
  • The additional materials needed to package an electric toothbrush and its components.
    • This often includes difficult to recycle plastics such as polystyrene protective packaging and thin plastic bags.
  • Additional energy requirements for transporting a heavier product. 
  • Additional energy requirements at home for charging the brush.
  • The need for specific waste electrical recycling. 

As you can see from the list above, focusing solely on the material the brush is made from doesn’t paint the whole picture.

It is important that we strive for more sustainable products, but claims need to be backed up by evidence and studies.

If bamboo isn’t as durable, it could be LESS eco-friendly than plastic

I would also question the durability of a bamboo handle. Bamboo is porous, and more likely to degrade with time compared to a plastic or a metal handle.

I have experienced this with bamboo manual toothbrush handles – they will pick up grime over time if not throughly dried between each use.

This may not affect the useage of the brush, but it may be unappealing to put near your mouth. I have no evidence to support or question the long term condition of bamboo electric toothbrushes as they have not been around for long enough. But it is a consideration.

If this is a problem and a bamboo electric toothbrush needs to be replaced after 1 to 2 years, it could have a worse impact on the environment than a plastic electric toothbrush that last for say 2 to 4 years.

A look at the brands that are selling bamboo electric toothbrushes and heads

There are now several brands that are selling bamboo toothbrushes.

We have not yet completed any hands-on testing for these products, but I have commented on the marketing claims below based on the research I have done.

The number of products is increasing all the time, the ones currently available include:

Do not be fooled into thinking these products are more sustainable than other electric toothbrushes simply because they’re made of bamboo.

Bambooi

Bambooi’s promotional video contains several red flags claims that are inaccurate and misleading.

The video opens with “finally an electric toothbrush that’s sustainable”, whilst their website states they are “The world’s first eco friendly electric toothbrush made from natural, plant-based materials”.

There is no evidence within the video or on the website to support this claim. They are using vague terms which are not supported by any specific studies on their website.

It seems Bambooi is working off the assumption that bamboo is more sustainable than plastic, which in turn makes the electric toothbrush sustainable.

This is not the case. As explained above, the biggest environmental impacts of an electric toothbrush come from how heavy it is to ship, and the electrical components used.

Confusingly, although the brush appears to be bamboo based, there seems to be heavy use of bio-based plastics which are made to look like bamboo rather than using bamboo itself.

Bambooi’s website also doesn’t state how heavy its toothbrush is. If it’s heavier to ship than other electric toothbrushes, it could have a worse environmental impact.

On the product page it also states that it only comes with a 90 day warranty. Other electric toothbrushes come with a 2 year warranty as standard.

It’s not all bad though. I would agree that the use of bio-based bristles instead of regular brushes are a better option than regular bristles. And Bambooi are also promoting the use of a return scheme for recycling toothbrush, although they don’t state what happens to these brush heads.

It would be good to see more actual evidence supporting their environmental claims.

Introducing Bio Max™ - The Eco Friendly Electric Toothbrush

Organically Epic

Organically Epic have produced this “Electric Bamboo Toothbrush”. This is one of a number of bamboo options available from them.

However bamboo is only a small portion of the brush! They state (in the smaller print) that the handle is actually made of plastic made to look like bamboo. They explain their reasons for this — safety and durability. They say “ Bamboo absorbs water so as well as being a fire risk with electronics inside, when we tried to make the entire brush out of bamboo it was super noisy and also was prone to mould.”

This fits in with what I suspected the problems would be using bamboo for an electric toothbrush. It is great that they have considered long term wear, but I do find the description and name of the product to be very misleading.

Only the toothbrush heads are made from bamboo. Although this is technically compostable, it will require you to dismantle the brush head to remove the bristles and any other components. Their claim of recyclable bristles is also optimistic, given that they only way to recycle them is via specialist toothbrush recycling schemes.

I like that the company itself uses FSC certified bamboo, but I think improvements could be made on the bristles which are conventional nylon with charcoal (the charcoal does not improve stain removal — see my article on recycling toothbrush bristles for more information). They have some information on the website, but don’t provide the evidence to support their claims (for example when discussing charcoal bristles removing staining). 

Etee

Canadian company Etee make bamboo manual toothbrushes and have also introduced this “Electric Bamboo Toothbrush”.

The advertize the toothbrush heads as “compostable” however when you look at their FAQ, it isn’t simply a case of chucking it on a home compost pile. A bit of effort is needed to dismantle the toothbrush head, and bristles are thrown into non-recycling waste. This is deceiving, which is one of the biggest problems I have with producers of toothbrushes like this!

Similar to other bamboo electric toothbrushes, the handle isn’t bamboo at all — it is made from PC plastic. Again, claims are made about it being 100% recyclable, but these are not fully supported or explained.

Fayet

Fayet Bamboo Electric Toothbrush is another option where the handle itself is plastic, but made to look like bamboo. The replaceable toothbrush heads are made from bamboo. The website itself is midleading, quoting plastics as biodegradable and “environmentally safe” with no explanation about what this means.

Bamboo electric toothbrush heads are also unproven when it comes to sustainability

Humble Co bamboo electric toothbrush heads
Photo from The Humble Co website

Bamboo electric toothbrush heads are new to the market. There are not many options available, and we have yet to do any hands on testing.

Examples of bamboo electric toothbrush heads include:

I haven’t come across any bamboo electric toothbrush heads for Oral-B/Braun. 

Replacing the plastic with bamboo does not automatically make these replacement heads better for the environment.

There is an assumption that replacing oil-based plastic components with bamboo will have less of an effect on the environment overall. This may be true, but there is no evidence to support this.

Recycling these brush heads will still be difficult because of the multiple parts and the nylon bristles. 

To learn more about this, see my article Can You Recycle Electric Toothbrush Heads?

What is the most eco-friendly toothbrush?

When it comes to toothbrushes that don’t have an impact on the environment, electric toothbrushes are the worst option.

When compared to manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrushes require more carbon to produce and ship, and they contain electrical components which can contribute to e-waste.

Therefore, if you are trying to minimise your impact on the environment, opt for a manual toothbrush.

With the evidence we have available, it seems that the most eco-friendly toothbrushes are those which have a reusable handle and changeable heads.

For more information, see our guide on the most-eco friendly toothbrush options.

We also have a guide on how to make your dental health more eco-friendly.

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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