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 amongst general waste that goes to landfill. 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.
Within the UK, The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, was introduced in 2007 and governs how manufacturers and retailers in European countries behave in regards to recycling.
The principle behind the directive is to ensure that landfill contains less of the harmful electrical products. The WEEE regulations do not directly affect you or I, targeting the manufacturers and suppliers, but as a result it has made it much easier for us to recycle our old electrical goods.
Under the terms of the WEEE directive, all retailers must provide a way for you and I to dispose of our electric toothbrushes and other old household electrical items when we are sold a new version. Some companies, particularly for larger appliances will offer a collection service whilst others which are part of the take-back scheme will direct you to your local recycling centre.
Manufacturers and suppliers help fund the national initiatives to reduce landfill and increase recycling.
This article is mostly concerned with the recycling of an electric toothbrush, but you should know many more electrical items can be recycled.
Almost all electrical items with a plug or a battery can be recycled to some degree, including the following:
- Large household appliances
- Fridges, freezers, microwaves, dishwashers and washing machines.
- Smaller household appliances
- Irons, toasters, kettles and vacuum cleaners.
- IT and communication equipment
- Laptops, fax machines, printers, phones and smartphones.
- Audio, audio-visual and other entertainment-related equipment
- MP3 players, stereos, TVs, DVD players and games consoles.
- Drills, saws, lawn mowers and sewing machines.
- Personal grooming gadgets
- Electric toothbrushes, hair dryers, straighteners and curling tongs.
If you can answer ‘yes’ to any of the following questions, then your electrical item can be recycled:
- Does it have a plug?
- Does it use a charger?
- Does it use batteries?
- Does it carry the WEEE wheelie bin logo (a crossed out wheelie bin)?
This directive has made recycling much easier. Whilst your electric toothbrush cannot normally be taken away in your kerbside recycling programmes that most councils operate there are normally local recycling centres nearby that will accept these.
Locate your nearest recycling centre by using the handy tool offered on the Recycle More website that will tell you where your nearest recycling centre or point is for a whole variety of different items.
If you are in the USA check out Call2Recycle a site that contains lots of useful information about battery recycling programs in North America. It can help you to to find a recycler near you.
If you own an Oral-B electric toothbrush, they have a specific programme you can use to recycle the whole toothbrush. Learn more about the Oral-B toothbrush recycling programme here.
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 comes.
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 tend to have a cardboard inner much like the material/texture of an egg box.
Colgate have thin moulded plastic whilst Oral-B use 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 Colgate’s or Philips recycling programmes.
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 yoghurt 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.