I received this question from a friend, and it got me thinking about toothbrushes again.
“I’m trying to buy some plastic free toothbrushes. Have come across a number of options. Just wondered if you had done any research on this that you may want to share. Also wondered if you could help me with the difference between “nylon -6” biodegradable bristles and “nylon – 4”. Sounds like a con to me as nylon and biodegradable is surely an oxymoron.”
I haven’t really thought about toothbrushes for some time, ever since I started using a Monte Bianco toothbrush that I bought about 6 years ago now. It’s not that I’ve been using the same toothbrush for that length of time, but it’s because the toothbrush has replaceable heads. Yes, the heads are still plastic, but I’m throwing away much less plastic every time as the full handle is kept and I just pop a new head on it, and it’s still working fine after 6 years. Even better, Monte Bianco have replacement heads that have either “natural” bristles made from boar hair or traditional nylon plastic. I’ve used both and they both work fine, the only difference is that the boar hair ones don’t seem to last as long as the nylon ones. Also, I don’t know how the boars are treated when they harvest their hairs, and that worries me too.
I mentioned these Monte Bianco toothbrushes in another post of mine way back in 2014 – “Using Less Plastic” – and here’s a link to an example of them being marketed online – http://www.soorganic.com/brands/monte-bianco.html
So this still creates plastic waste, but a lot less, so it fits with the spirit of Use 10 Percent Less. However, what if we want to eliminate plastic altogether, is that possible? Well one store that I like in the UK is “Anything But Plastic” (I have no affiliation with them, just like their stuff and the way they do business) and they sell bamboo toothbrushes. Even these don’t eliminate plastic all together because they use nylon bristles. In their description of these bamboo toothbrushes, under “Material Ratings” they list the following;
What are they made from?
Bristles: Nylon 6 … Yes, it is plastic, but there is not a lot of alternatives right now to plastic bristles unless you want to use boar bristles. Most people I have asked have told me that they don’t want to stick pig hair in their mouth thanks so goddamn plastic bristles it is. I can’t decide if I would use a boar hair toothbrush, but I am entertained by the thought that there is someone whose job it is to shave pigs.
I will offer alternatives in the future, but bamboo toothbrushes seem to have captured the UK’s imagination in the way boar bristle toothbrushes or miswak sticks have failed to. (Miswak is natures toothbrush, basically a twig from specific types of trees. A substantial population of the world still use these or similar, it is just the western world which is obsessed with sticking plastic in our mouths. If anyone can point me in the direction of Miswak which isn’t vacuum packed in plastic I would be grateful for your assistance as I would love to have them on here!)
So it seems the only way to eliminate plastic all together is to use Miswak chew sticks. I haven’t tried anything like that yet.
Nylon-6 vs Nylon-4
Now back to that other question about the two different types of nylon. It seems for sure that Nylon-6 is not biodegradeable and Nylon-4 might be. There seems to be some evidence from the scientific community (eg. this report from ScienceDirect) that Nylon-4 is biodegradable, but there also seems to be some dispute about this claim. I also notice that there’s the possibility of some manufacturers claim their product uses Nylon-4 when it actually isn’t. It’s probably safest to just assume that all Nylons are not biodegradable.
Of course, we don’t want to get too hung up about all these issues. The key thing is reduce our plastic usage and just keep finding more and more ways to reduce. We can’t eliminate all plastic instantly but we can step by step. Evaluating the types of toothbrushes we’re using is a very good way to reduce our plastic impact on the world.