Can you recycle old toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes?
It is World Oral Health Day on Saturday, reminding us of the risks of not our teeth regularly.
While the importance of brushing is clear, can we choose more carefully what we do with our toothbrushes once we’ve worn through their bristles?
While recycling products we use every day is a simple way to help the environment, it’s occasionally a complicated process. Indeed, toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes are often a mix of materials that make them more of a challenge to recycle than you might expect.
What are toothbrushes made from?
Toothbrushes are difficult to recycle as they usually contain several types of plastic. Meanwhile, the nylon bristles – another form of plastic – and are not yet recyclable.
Manufacturers are exploring alternatives. Using bamboo for handles (see below) is growing in popularity, but compromising on a more environmentally-friendly bristles substitute is proving tricky.
Can you put toothbrushes in the recycle bin?
In short, no you can’t.
Most local authority-run schemes in the UK can’t recycle toothbrushes or toothpaste tubes because they comprise multiple materials fused together.
While in theory it is possible to recycle most plastics, councils must judge whether there is a sustainable market that justifies the expense of collecting and then separating different products.
There is an alternative, though.
Since 2018, Colgate has joined forces with TerraCycle – a company that specialises in finding solutions for waste considered ‘non-recyclable’ through traditional schemes – to offer a free recycling programme for any brand of used toothpaste tubes, old toothbrushes and dental floss containers.
You can leave your oral care products and packaging at public drop-off points across the UK, from where TerraCycle’s recycling centres break them down into their constituent parts, shreds and then melts them into hard plastic pellets. These can be remoulded to make new recycled products such as benches.
What can you do with old toothbrushes?
Instead of recycling an old toothbrush, it’s arguably easier to find ways to reuse it. How about cleaning car parts, or anything accessible by the tiny bristles? They can clean mud off the bottom of shoes, grout from a kitchen counter or between bathroom tiles.
Use a computer at home? Then use a dry, or just slightly damp, toothbrush to clean the sides of your keys.
There’s a long list of potential uses and fiddly tasks.
Are bamboo toothbrushes better for the environment?
Of course, one of the best approaches to avoid having to throw away a ‘non-recyclable’ item is not to buy one to start with.
Bamboo has a smaller ecological footprint than plastic because its plants regrow quickly. There are an increasing number of eco-friendly options on the market, but bamboo is the favourite alternative material for a toothbrush handle because it is biodegradable. Once finished with, and nylon bristles removed, you can compost bamboo handles or reuse them as garden plant markers.
Some companies even offer replaceable heads so you can use the same handle for an extended period.
Are toothpaste tubes recyclable?
Toothpaste and other squeezable tubes are tough to recycle because they combine different materials.
For example, toothpaste tubes often contain a thin layer of aluminium to help keep the paste inside minty fresh. This makes it a challenge for recycling plants to separate and process them.
Although easier to recycle, most councils won’t accept pump-action toothpaste containers. The advice from Recycle for Greater Manchester (R4GM), which works together with councils in Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside and Trafford to encourage residents and businesses to manage their waste responsibly, is to put empty plastic toothpaste tubes in the general waste bin.
One new development is the emergence of environmentally friendly toothpaste tubes and glass jars. There are products made entirely from aluminium, tubes made from organic materials, and for a zero waste solution, toothpaste tablets that foam up when brushed.
Have a question for us?
Here at Fresh Start, we take seriously our responsibility to the environment.
Our commitment is unwavering with minimising the amount of rubbish sent to landfill, and we constantly check our working practices to find ways we can improve.
The theme for this year’s World Oral Health Day, an initiative devised by FDI World Dental Federation to raise awareness on the prevention and control of oral disease, is ‘Be Proud of Your Mouth.’
Click here to find out more.