Sustainable biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes from GreenPanda and other eco-friendly no-plastic toothbrush alternatives

While toothbrushes might appear like a minor concern in the list of modern lifestyle habits that negatively affect the planet, they are actually a HUGE issue for our environmental habitat. In the US alone around 1 billion plastic toothbrushes get thrown away every year (source) and about 50 billion pounds of used toothbrushes in the US end up in landfills (source). That’s a LOT of waste. Even worse, of the estimated 4.7 billion toothbrushes that get thrown away every year, a substantial amount ends up not only in landfills, but becomes a part of the vast amounts of waste in our oceans.

On a scale of 1-10 for environmental friendliness, I’d rate my former toothbrush habits at about a 2. I had been using a Phillips Sonicare electric toothbrush and regular plastic toothbrushes. The big plastic brushes are the WORST, and the Sonicare isn’t much better – they don’t even provide any info on whether their plastic heads can be recycled… In short, I really needed to make a change.

There is currently no 100% perfect solution to the toothbrush problem, but I have found some imperfect-but-much-better solutions on the market. Eco-toothbrushes generally fall into one of two categories – bamboo handle toothbrushes and recycled plastic. (I personally won’t consider completely ditching my brush anytime soon, though some people may view that as an option.)


Enter, Option # 1 – the Green Panda Bamboo Toothbrush (available at Whole Foods)

The GreenPanda toothbrush

This is my favourite brush so far and the only toothbrush that can easily found in a mainstream store that is, at least in theory, fully biodegradable. It comes with Nylon 4 bristles – a somewhat controversial material that has been proven to be biodegradable under specific circumstances.

What it feels like to brush with it:
The brush is amazing. The bristles are very soft, and my teeth feel wonderful. I feel that I can safely scrub my teeth clean without harming my enamel in any way. The handle also feels great. It’s quite grippy and the bamboo definitely feels a lot nicer than the plastic brushes.

Unfortunately the packaging of this brush could be improved. There’s a small plastic viewing window, so while the toothbrush is biodegradable, part of the packaging isn’t. Green Panda is a certified B-Corp and a family-run business.

A few other bamboo toothbrushes that seem decent are:

Brush with Bamboo

Humble Brush

The Environmental Toothbrush

The Udo Brush

Some of these have biodegradable bristles, and some of them don’t. There’s also a more compost-friendly brush out there that uses boar bristles. ( If anyone has tried a boar bristle brush, please let me know if the comments!) I’m sticking with the GreenPanda brush for now. Given that my objective is to reduce my environmental footprint, ordering an item that will need to be packaged and shipped doesn’t make that much sense.


Option #2 – The Preserve (sold at Whole Foods, Sprouts…)

The Preserve can be found here.
The founders of Preserve generally follow a circular economy approach, instead of a “zero waste” approach, like the compostable bamboo brush manufactures. The Preserve is made out of recycled plastic, with at least 65% recycled yoghurt cups. They offer a recycling program for their products.

If you believe that Circular Economy could be a stepping stone towards building a greener future, then the Preserve might be a good option for you. Qualitatively it isn’t different from a regular plastic toothbrush.

Personally, I do support Circular Economy principles, but I believe that when there is a biodegradable solution for my consumer needs, then that solution should have priority over the recyclable option. I also prefer the way the bamboo brush feels in my hands… However, if you just can’t stand bamboo, then buy the Preserve instead. Imagine if everybody switched to the Preserve and if we recycled those 2 billion toothbrushes that end up getting dumped into landfills and oceans every year… this would be a massive positive change that could really affect our global ecosystem!


Is there a market opportunity for eco toothbrushes?

According to an article in the Guardian last year, the market may just not be ready for a switch to eco toothbrushes. The founders of Preserve also said, in that same article, that big brands don’t seem to see a “purchase intent” for these types of brushes yet.

It’s important to note however, that there is a huge *market* for toothbrushes, dominated by a few power players such as Colgate, Oral-B or Phillips. and, with oil resources, and thus plastic becoming scarce at some in the future, this market is definitely going to change. We just don’t know exactly *when* this change is going to take place.

A significant shift towards sustainability in the toothbrush market could happen in two ways. Either corporates could change their product offerings and marketing messages, OR innovative products from new startups could gain in popularity through the use of clever social media strategies and via educating consumers about the importance of choosing better toothbrushes. Unfortunately due to their size, corporates are notoriously slow and won’t make major adaptions unless they are extremely pressured by an increasing scarcity of resources and rising production costs.

It’s difficult to ascertain how far along the market is at this point, but there might be a window of opportunity for startups (or forward-thinking corporate intrapreneurs) to innovate and beat the old plastic toothbrushes with cooler, fancier, healthier eco-toothbrush product offerings. 

Both the manual and the electric toothbrush market could be tackled. The electric toothbrush market also lacks any real alternatives to the standard offerings by established brands. A smart startup could come in and offer a toothbrush with a head-replacement subscription and buy-back program. We could experiment with stainless steel as a material for electric brushes. Or we could possibly come up with a lifetime use toothbrush with virtually indestructible bristles that can be safely sterilised at home… The possibilities for innovation are endless, considering the nylon bristle toothbrush as we know it has not undergone any significant changes since about 1938.

As for me, I’ve made the switch to a bamboo toothbrush. It’s not a perfect solution, but I feel better about my toothbrush habits than I did before the switch. After the switch to bamboo, I’d probably give myself a 6 out of 10 for environmental friendliness in regards to toothbrush use, although I don’t know what a 10 would actually look like for me. I’m picturing a locally sourced, wooden, fully compostable toothbrush, that comes without packaging, from a B-Corp that contributes to reforestation efforts. Or maybe a super innovative yet-to-invented toothbrush out of new high-tech, eco-friendly materials…
Does anyone know of any further sustainable toothbrush brands worth mentioning? And, more importantly, are there any startups in the toothbrush sphere that are doing something new or different in this market?
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