Ask Pablo: Does recycling your toothbrush really make a difference?


Image Source: Preserve
Dear Pablo: Does recycling your toothbrush really make a difference? Doesn't mailing it back do more damage than the recycling avoids?

It is true that mailing anything has an impact, but is it more than the recycling itself? To get to the bottom of this we need to consider the impact of regular toothbrushes, recycled toothbrushes, and shipping of toothbrushes.What Is The Impact Of A Toothbrush Anyway?
Let us assume that the average toothbrush weighs 25 grams. A toothbrush can be made from a variety of plastics but the Preserve toothbrushes are made from polypropylene (PP). From a 2007 life cycle analysis (LCA) study by Franklin Associates for the Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council we know that the greenhouse gas emissions impact is 1343 kg CO2e per 1,000 kg of PP. This means 34 grams of greenhouse gas emissions for every conventional toothbrush. We can ignore the transportation emissions since the Preserve toothbrushes travel through essentially the same supply network.

What Is The Impact Of A Preserve Toothbrush?
Preserve toothbrushes are made from recycled Stonyfield Farms yogurt containers, which reduces the impact significantly. According to Preserve the use of recycled materials uses:

  • 54% less water;
  • 75% less oil;
  • 48% less coal;
  • 77% less natural gas; and
  • 46% less electricity.

All of this reduces the greenhouse gas emissions, when compared to a conventional toothbrush, by 64%. This means that the preserve toothbrush results in only 12 grams of greenhouse gas emissions.

What Is The Impact of Mailing A Toothbrush?
The mailing address for toothbrush returns is in New York so the average shipping distance is likely to be less than 3000 miles (4,828 km). Shipping 25 grams of toothbrush by 3000 miles results in around 22 grams of greenhouse gas emissions. Even with this conservative scenario the emissions from making a Preserve toothbrush and shipping it back from across the country are at most equivalent to the conventional toothbrush. It is worth noting that Preserve uses the UPS Carbon Neutral Program.

So, Does Sending Your Toothbrushes Back To Be Recycled Really Make A Difference?
According to a source at Preserve, 25,000 tons of toothbrushes end up in US landfills each year. That estimate is probably a little conservative because it comes out to about 2.6 toothbrushes per person per year while dentists recommend replacing your toothbrush every 1-3 months. The impact of one toothbrush may be minimal. You could even call it negligible. However, the collective impact of millions of toothbrushes is significant. Preserve is doing its part to positively affect its small part of personal care products industry. So remember to brush and floss daily, and when you're done with it, recycle that toothbrush!

Other More Sustainable Toothbrush Options Available Include:

  • Eco-Dent Replaceable Head Toothbrushes
  • The Radius Source toothbrushes made with recycled US Treasury bills, Flax or Wood
  • And then there's this product, a "recyclable" toothbrush with a "musical timer featuring an original rap song recorded by 'Da Hip Hop Cop.' aka Anthony Ward." Sustainable? What do you think? Leave your comments below.

Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com and Principal Environmental Consultant at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
More TreeHugger Articles On Preserve:
Preserve Toothbrush
Preserve Jr. Endangered Species Toothbrush
New From Recycline: Preserve Kitchen

Tags: Bathrooms | Cradle To Cradle | Life Cycle Analysis | Recycled Consumer Goods

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