THE BIOTHINKER Free weekly email -- Pass it on!
By Edwin Datschefski (www.biothinking.com)
September 26th 1999 Published By: BioThinking International


Go into your bathroom and have a look at your toothbrush.
It is made from virgin materials, is not recyclable, was manufactured
using fossil energy, came in a nonrecyclable plastic package, and has
not really changed in design or chemicals types or process
efficiency over the last ten years. In short, it would score a big
fat 0|0|0|0 on the cyclic|solar|safe|efficient system. (Well, the
solar bit might be as much as 20% in some countries where there
is a lot of hydro, but that's pretty much by accident as far as the
toothbrush design is concerned).

We ought to be able to get this simple device right. There are a few
niche innovations already at large:

* Frisetta designed the first 100% recyclable toothbrushes in
the world, marketed as Terradent in Europe. I think that they
are nylon.
* EcoDent in Australia do a replaceable head brush.
* There is a Blue Angel Ecolabel criteria for "Low Waste
Change-Top Tooth Brushes" RAL-UZ 82, and current 2 firms
have applied to label a total of 10 products. The criteria say that
the design must allow the user to change the brush head, and
the pack offered for sale must include at least two additional
brush heads. Packs of a minimum of three must also be offered
separately through the same distribution channel. It also stipulates
that no lead, halogenated hydrocarbons or cadmium is used, along
with mainly recycled packaging materials.
* The ecoŽ Infection Control Toothbrush is made by
Recyla-Dent Inc. in Vermont. Constructed with 100% polypropylene,
eco toothbrushes do not harbour germs or bacteria breeding
pockets like conventional toothbrushes. The eco manufacturing
process eliminates the use of metal staples to hold bristles in place,
which also makes eco Infection Control toothbrushes recyclable.

Putting these existing innovations together, we can make a recyclable,
change-top brush.

Currently available recyclable toothbrushes seem to be nylon or
polypropylene, which are recyclable but not at your corner plastics
bank. To be actually recycled, they would need a takeback channel, or
the alternative would be to use the more commonly-collected PE or
PET instead.

The other aspect is that the brushes should be made from an organic or
recycled material -- but bioplastics or wood probably won't work in
such wet operating conditions. To avoid downcycling, the brushes
could be pure white plastic and closed loop, but would you brush
your teeth with something made from someone else's old toothbrush?
I don't see why not, but brush manufacturers like Colgate and
Oral-B might find the PR tricky, so we could be temporarily stuck
with a score of 50 here.

If we're stuck with using virgin petroleum plastics, then we're
not really going to score well here (or maybe oil refineries could
run on wind power ... and produce only plastics and no fuels ...).
The moulding, packaging and distribution could be solar, but the
final distribution would be hard for a manufacturer to influence
directly. We'll hope for a 30 here.

Using a remelted thermoplastic would result in much less
emissions than making the plastic from scratch. But as that's
not in our plan, we can only go for uncoloured material that
would eliminate the toxic impacts of pigments. This could give
us conservatively a 10% reduction on 1990 production emissions;
a score of 10.

Guesstimating that a new brush weighs 20g and that the head is
8g and the stem is 12g, the replaceable head toothbrush system
uses 52g of material over 5 replacements, compared with 100g
with the standard brush. That's only a 48% reduction, but a good
start towards our goal of having a90% reduction.

So that's a big improvement; a score of 50|30|10|50. But still a fair way
off being 100% sustainable. To achieve that would require a brush
that can be made from a recycled material -- something that may
well be possible, so please let me know if you have heard of mainstream
healthcare product manufacturers using recycled materials in products
that are put in the mouth.

/thanks for reading
/be cyclic, solar and safe!

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