There comes a time in the life of an electric toothbrush where it is no longer working as it should and it needs to be replaced or you have simply decided it is time for a new one.
The question is, what do you do with it?
You have two main options as far as we see it.
1. Re-use the electric toothbrush
If it is still working and there is nothing wrong with it then perhaps give it to someone else to use (change the brush head of course). Someone else might be able to get some value from it if your desire is to get a new one.
Another option is to retain it for use as a tool to help you with cleaning jobs….it is surprising how handy they can be.
One of the best uses is cleaning grout, tiles and other hard to reach areas in a bathroom, round the bottom of taps maybe. Many will use a manual toothbrush, but why not take advantage of the extra power and motion offered up by an electric toothbrush?!
Keep your old brush heads too, these will be fine for cleaning tiles, etc.
2. Dispose of the brush (handle only)
An electric toothbrush contains plastic, batteries and electrical components.
The batteries, in particular, should not be disposed with or amongst your ‘normal’ waste.
The chemicals in the battery can be dangerous to the environment if disposed of amongst general waste that goes to landfills. It should, therefore, be recycled.
Believe it or not, parts of the electric toothbrush battery can be reused for other products or industries.
Plastic parts such as the body of the brush handle itself will likely end up in landfill at the end of the recycling process. A petroleum product, it does not biodegrade quickly and if incinerated can release toxic chemicals.
Statistics Canada reveals that in 2012, Canadians produced 14.3 million tonnes of waste, an increase of 27% compared to 2002. However, the amount of waste diverted into recycling as opposed to landfill increased to 33% from 25% of 2002.
71,396 tonnes of e-waste made its way into recycling programmes in 2012. The rest ended up in landfills and incinerators.
There is no nationwide legislation about recycling and disposing of electronic waste, which includes electric toothbrushes. However, many municipalities do now have their own rules on what should be done.
The Government of Canada lists some of the programs available by waste type and region here.
You can always make contact with the brush manufacturer to see if they have any return programs. Failing that, take it to a local electronic waste collection site.
You can also check out Call2Recycle a site that contains lots of useful information about battery recycling programs in Canada It can help you to find a recycler near you. There are many drop-off locations particularly for batteries.
You will be aware that every 3 months the brush head on your electric toothbrush should be replaced.
Made of various plastics and nylon, the brush heads cannot normally be recycled. They have to go into landfill waste.
However, there are specialist companies that are now able to begin recycling and reusing the plastics that come from such products, particularly as the awareness of plastic pollution is increasing.
Whilst the ability to recycle these is becoming greater, getting these items to the recycler is not as simple as we might like.
Thankfully some brands are stepping in to help address this issue, by funding nationwide recycling programs. They exist in the USA and the UK.
Toms of Maine have a Candaian service, but this exlude electric toothbrush heads. No other brands have yet to implement a nationwide program for brush heads in Canada.
Within the US, each program has slightly different rules and lists of products that are accepted.
Some allow deposits to be made by dropping them off at one of the locations around the country, whilst others allow you to ship the products directly to the recycling agency.
Hopefully we will see similar in Canada soon.
I wanted to make a mention of the packaging in which electric toothbrushes come.
To date from all the toothbrushes I have tested, I have found Philips Sonicare to be the best for their more environmentally approach to packaging.
All brands have outer cardboard boxes, but Sonicare tends to have a cardboard inner much like the material/texture of an egg box.
Colgate have thin molded plastic whilst Oral-B uses polystyrene in many (not all) of theirs.
The card can be recycled, the plastic and polystyrene can’t. I would like to see Oral-B particularly drop the use of polystyrene.
It could be argued that a manual toothbrush without battery is better for the environment. However, just like an electric toothbrush, the plastic and nylon construction is not biodegradable.
Although, it is now possible to recycle these through Toms of Maine’s recycling program.
Bamboo brushes are amongst some of the best options available as they don’t need to necessarily go to a specialist recycler. However, to break down they still need to be composted correctly (without the bristles).
Environmentally Friendly and Recyclable Toothbrushes
At present, there are not many truly eco or recyclable toothbrushes, be that manual or electric.
Bamboo handled brushes are currently the best option, but only available as a manual toothbrush.
Whilst the bristles are still made of nylon, the bamboo will biodegrade and there is some evidence to suggest particular types of nylon are biodegradable. (My Plastic Free Life)
Things are beginning to change, with more environmentally considerate products starting to come to market.
Toothbrushes made from bioplastics, along with manual toothbrushes with replacement heads are being introduced, to try and tackle the plastic waste problem.
Sadly, no company has completely mastered this yet.
Preserve is a US based company making a difference in offering recyclable brushes made from recycled #5 plastics such as yogurt pots. It would be nice to see more initiatives like this.
We are currently undertaking lots of research and testing the environmentally friendly and sustainable toothbrushes available today.
Once we have completed this we will be sharing our findings and recommendations with you. Register your interest here in our guide to eco-friendly dental products.