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.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, almost 2.4 million tons of electronics were disposed of in 2009, an increase of more than 120 percent from 1999. Of this amount, only 25 percent were collected for recycling. The rest ended up in landfills and incinerators. This includes computers, televisions, stereos, printers, copiers and mobile devices. (NCSL)
There is no nationwide legislation about recycling and disposing of electronic waste, which includes electric toothbrushes. However, many states and districts do now have their own rules on what should be done.
According to the NCSL:
- Legislation typically follows two basic models for e-waste disposal. Under the extended producer responsibility model, used in 24 states, the manufacturer takes responsibility by paying to collect and recycle the products covered under law, with the products covered varying widely from state to state.
- Under the second type of program, known as the advanced recycling fee model, consumers pay retailers a $6 to $10 fee at the time of purchase which is deposited into a statewide recycling fund. California adopted this method in 2003—and was the first state to establish an e-waste recycling program.
It, therefore, is necessary for you to refer to local legislation on what you should do when it comes to disposing of or recycling an electric toothbrush.
You can always make contact with the brush manufacturer to see if they have any return programs as in many states it is their responsibility to collect and recycle electronic products. 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 North America. It can help you to find a recycler near you.
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.
The main company that does this is called TerraCycle. It partners with various brands so that they can contribute to the cost of recycling.
We cover this in more detail in our posts:
- Can you recycle electric toothbrush heads?
- How to recycle a manual toothbrush and other dental products
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 Oral-B’s, Colgate’s or Toms of Maine’s recycling programs.
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.