- Grade 7
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Brushing Your Way to a Better Future
Plastic toothbrushes. Such a small thing that we use every day and throw out the minute it breaks or doesn’t meet our hygienic standards. We don’t even notice the impact it has to polluting our planet because it’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about climate change. 1 billion toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the U.S. alone. That’s 50 million pounds of pure plastic! That number will keep growing and growing unless we do something.
Why should I be worried about toothbrushes? Why not worry about cars, climate change, or pollution? Toothbrushes, hairbrushes, pens, straws, plastic bags. All these things have something in common... They're all made from pure plastic. Sure, we’ve put a 5-cent tax on plastic bags but that isn’t really stopping people from using them, sure we’ve switched to using paper straws but that was by choice, not by force, and sure we’re talking about making a change but we aren’t making that change.
Many people toss away their toothbrushes in the trash, not thinking about the impact it has on our environment. That’s not because they don’t care, it’s that nobody has taken the time to educate them and how they should be recycled. The plastic/container bin doesn’t show a picture of a toothbrush, nor does the garbage so where are we supposed to put them? We don’t know so we put it in the trash, thinking it’s just one toothbrush which isn’t a big deal. Right? Wrong. These pieces of pure plastic sit in our landfills decaying and leaking out toxins and harmful chemicals which end up on our beaches and in our oceans. Marine life can ingest a toothbrush thinking that it’s food where it remains in their stomach and can even end up on our own plates in fish, shrimp, octopus, etc. as microplastics.
Toothbrushes are made from harmful chemicals such as nylon, polypropylene, and polyethylene plastics which are made from fossil fuels. The bristles are made from nylon although many toothbrush manufacturers say that their toothbrush bristles are made from Nylon-4, a type of plastic that is petroleum-based and has been shown to biodegrade under certain conditions. There has been no other proof showing us that this plastic can biodegrade fully, especially not in the ocean where most of our toothbrushes end up. The making of these toothbrushes releases more than just carbon dioxide, it releases a hazardous gas called nitrous oxide or, you might be more familiar with the term laughing gas. So, if plastic toothbrushes are so bad, why not just switch to electric toothbrushes? It has a removable head! Even though that might sound like a better alternative, electric toothbrushes are still pure plastic.
When plastic was invented it was this almost indestructible, cheap to make, life-changing thing that everyone wanted. It was so great that it became the new everyday item, it was molded to make cups, containers, toothbrushes, pens. But nobody saw how this would affect their future, our future. They were so mesmerized by this new invention they didn’t see how bad it would destroy our earth. Not only for us but for animals, habitats, and our planet.
If plastic toothbrushes and electric toothbrushes are bad for the earth... What are we supposed to use instead? A company called “The Future is Bamboo” is among other toothbrush companies that have created a 99% eco-friendly and biodegradable toothbrush from bamboo which are sold at many local pharmacies. The bamboo toothbrush is a more sustainable and renewable option to brushing your teeth. The only catch is, you have to dispose of them correctly. Although the body of the toothbrush is bamboo and compostable, the bristles are still made from nylon which means instead of just tossing your bamboo toothbrush into the compost you have to pull off the bristles using plyers and put them in the recycling. Then, you can go ahead and toss the toothbrush in the compost where it takes 6 months to decompose naturally in the environment. And, these toothbrushes have a much lower carbon footprint as opposed to the popular plastic toothbrush. As well as can be made easily and quickly since bamboo is the fastest growing resource in the world. These vegan friendly, panda safe toothbrushes can be found at almost any local drug store. Other alternatives other than buying a bamboo toothbrush can include buying a toothbrush with a reusable handle and you can even ask a plastic toothbrush manufacturing company to develop a more eco-friendly alternative or, the next time you get a free plastic toothbrush from your dentist, recommend a more sustainable alternative!
Our team, group of grade 7 students from Lynn Valley Elementary, have come up with an idea of a toothbrush prototype that is 100% biodegradable and decomposable. It has the same body as the bamboo toothbrush except that it has bioplastic bristles. Bioplastic is made from renewable biomass sources such as plants, vegetable oils and fats, corn starch, straw, woodchips, and food waste. As well as agricultural by-products and used containers and plastic bottles using microorganisms. There is no net increase in the carbon dioxide in the air because once the bioplastic breaks down and releases the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it only releases the amount of carbon dioxide that the plants used absorbed in their lifetime. Another idea that our group came up with was that the toothbrush would have a removable head like an electric toothbrush. Once it’s time to replace the head you just toss the old one into the compost, no need to remove the bristles with plyers, and replace it with a new one.
We believe that if we can take small steps to make our earth a better place it will make such a big impact. And one of those steps is switching to bamboo toothbrushes. If we can stop climate change and create more sustainable options to everyday items, we can be set free from this trap we put ourselves in. I believe that if we look to our future and see the impact we might make, we will make not only the present, but the future a safe, healthy, and green space for us to live.