Do 100% recyclable, plastic-free toothbrushes exist? How good are today’s “clean” toothpastes? And: why should you care?

PRODUCT BATTLE:
Organic Toothpaste + Eco Friendly Toothbrushes In Comparison

In a series of posts called PRODUCT BATTLE, we compare products to show the different paths sustainability can take in order to deliver product excellence.

WHY CARE FOR SUSTAINABLE TOOTHBRUSHES?
(IN THE FIRST PLACE)

Why choosing sustainable toothbrushes matters even if they may not be 100% sustainable right nowTl;dr reason: because plastic.

Even Germany, one of Europe’s alleged leaders in recycling and sustainability, has a huge problem with packaging waste. In 2016 Germans produced on average 220.5 kg packaging waste per capita (source: Umweltbundesamt). Now Europe’s legislative proposal on single use plastics does include the ban of said plastics as well as an extended producer responsibility for single-use plastic items. However, with the top litter items being “food containers, cups, plastic bottles and cigarette butts“ (source), some responsibility does remain with the consumers.

From this perspective, using toothbrushes with untreated bamboo or CO2-neutral bioplastic handles is so much better than using conventional ones that will inevitably sit around or, more likely, swim around in our poor, plastic waste filled oceans, refusing to rot for hundreds of years (up to 400!). Right?

But the truth about those “100% recyclable/ compostable” toothbrushes is that the handle is not the hardest part to produce in a sustainable manner. The bristles are.

Unless the toothbrush manufacturer opts for pig hair that comes with two major side effects, the only somewhat sustainable solution possible right now is using castor oil-based nylon. However, these nylon bristles, albeit made from a plant = from a renewable raw material and being approved by industry and dental professionals, are not biodegradable.

Pig hair – a traditional choice in many European countries – is of course a sustainable option in terms of that it will biodegrade. However, animal farming is not a vegan-friendly nor a very environmentally-friendly option. Plus, being a natural product, pig hair toothbrushes need quite some maintenance to keep them hygienic.

BUT NATH, DO TRULY 100% SUSTAINABLE TOOTHBRUSHES EXIST?

Brushing teeth – a routine that should be as sustainable and natural as possible and hygienically soundSo, what would be the top sustainable option available in 2018?
Well. It would be a twig.

And if you’re thinking “Ah, miswak!” or “Neem”, I am happy to inform you that you don’t need to get an exotic twig shipped across the planet to your bathroom!

No matter where you’re based in the world, the technique of chewing on a tannin-rich and antibacterial twig to make it fray and to brush your teeth with the obtained “brush” is pretty much international.

In Europe for instance, fig twigs, liquorice root, orange, silver birch and many more tree species have a history of having been used to make chewing sticks.

While this technique may need some getting used to, the benefits can be quite enormous: take the low cost into consideration – even more so if you have a garden with suitable trees to call your own; the variation of softness by choosing twigs from different trees; the almost zero-waste outcome; and there is even no need for toothpaste anymore when using a twig – for the plants have astringent and anti-bacterial properties.

The only downside is that it may feel like stepping back to the Middle Ages for many people (and their dentists) and that of course the risk of picking a tree you’re allergic to or hurting your teeth or gums may be higher with this completely unpredictable natural product.

WHY CARE FOR ORGANIC OR NATURAL (OR “CLEAN”) TOOTHPASTE?

Because conventional toothpaste can contain certain ingredients you don’t want anywhere near your mouth, such as Triclosan, Titanium Dioxide, SLS/ SDS, abrasives, PEGs – we discussed the respective reasons why earlier.
Because conventional toothpaste comes in conventional single use plastic packaging.
Because natural toothpastes these days come in a crazy variety of textures, looks, colours and are much more fun on your shelf!

PRODUCTS TESTED

Toothpaste/ Tabs

Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Toothpaste
My Magic Mud Activated Charcoal Coconut Oil Bentonite Clay Peppermint
Denttabs Free-from Fluoride

All are vegan-friendly, free from Fluoride, free from Titanium Dioxide (recent study found it to be potentially cancerogenic on mucous tissues) and free from most “offenders” that can occur in conventional or natural toothpaste formulas.

PRODUCTS TESTED Toothpaste/ Tabs Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Toothpaste My Magic Mud Activated Charcoal Coconut Oil Bentonite Clay Peppermint Denttabs Free-from Fluoride

Brushes

BioBrush
Tiomatik by Tio
Hydrophil

BioBrush Tiomatik by Tio Hydrophil All brushes are vegan-friendly and come from companies with great ethics

All brushes are vegan-friendly and come from companies with great ethics.
All have an above-average design and offer efficient, modern products thus working on getting close to what we seek here – Ethical Excellence.

Eco-friendly toothbrushes test: Biobrush BerlinBioBrush
Bristles:          Castor oil-based nylon
Body:              Bioplastic from woodworking industry waste (70%) and fossil plastic (30%)
Made in:         Germany
Design:           Ergonomic with several colour choices, slightly futuristic – holds several design awards; smaller sized head and rounded bristles
Price:              €2.99 for one brush (also available as a set of 12 at €28)
Packaging:     Compostable foil 96% plant-based
End of life:     Brush and foil – household waste or “Gelbe Tonne” (burns with a nearly neutral carbon footprint; bioplastic is not yet part of the recycling cycle, although recyclable)

Test drive:
BioBrush are the go-to brushes in the casa BEAUTYCALYPSE due to the comfortably small heads, the medium-soft bristles, the fine curved handles and of course – the colour options. Yes, it could be “greener” overall, but the same goes for most sustainable brushes out there. Having spoken to the founders, I am pretty sure they will include greener options once those are actually available.
So who is this brush for? This is the brush for all of you who can’t stand the sensation of a large wooden stick in their mouth (I know I can’t for too long, even though I was pleasantly surprised by the Hydrophil bought for this test as opposed to my first purchase years ago, but I digress). This is the sustainable brush for the design lover as well: available in solid colour only, the BioBrush can be all flashy in green, orange, cyan and purple-pink or satisfy your minimalistic eye in grey or white. A collab with My Magic Mud even yielded an all-black BioBrush that I am dying to get my hands on.
Yes, bioplastic is not quite the bees’ knees yet but for me, based in Germany, the shorter production ways and the emission-free waste incineration at the end of the product’s life weigh a lot into this purchasing decision.

Product review Tiomatik for electric toothbrushesTiomatik for electric toothbrushes
Bristles:          Castor oil-based nylon
Body:              Bioplastic with 10% conventional hard plastic axis to ensure longevity
Made in:         Germany
Design:           Very classic but stands out with Tio’s signature pale cyan all over; heads are marked with clean-looking icons (cross, circle, triangle, diamond) to not be mixed up by family members; holds two design awards and one green product award for their original manual toothbrush with exchangeable heads. Rounded quality bristles, medium
Price:              €7.90 for a pack of 2 heads
Packaging:     FSC-certified paper case
End of life:     Packaging – paper; brush – household waste

Test drive:
The Tiomatik worked fine with the old Oral-B electric brush we have. The bristles are excellent, the head is of the “classic” size, and works just as good as the conventional predecessor.  Seems like a perfect choice for anyone on the lookout for a greener alternative, right? Right. And truth be told, we wanted to love it soooo much. Two caveats however have made a re-purchase unlikely for us, unless Tio will fix the issues.
First, the Tiomatik heads have no lock inside them, so the movement constantly pushes them off the handle. It’s admittedly fun to watch but not very practical. [Enter sound effect: Freddy Mercury screaming “Don’t lose your head!”]
Second and more important reason is a design problem the Tiomatik have. There is too little space left for the rotating head to move. On the original Oral-B heads for example, there is a “stripe” of space left under the rotating head. You need that space to actually fit your lips around the rotating part of the device. How we know? Oh, by letting the Tiomatik pinch our lips.
Ouch.

Sustainable toothbrush review: HydrophilHydrophil
Bristles:          Castor oil-based nylon
Body:              Bamboo
Made in:         China (FSC and CE certified production site near Shanghai)
Design:           Thick, round, straight bamboo handle with water-based paint details and white rounded bristles – the head is slightly narrow
Price:              €3.90 (available in a set of 4 at €13.90)
Packaging:     Cardboard and a paper sleeve
End of life:     You can pull out the bristles (-> household waste) and reuse the handles for whatever project of yours could use bamboo sticks (otherwise -> household waste)

Test drive:
I’ve expressed my aversion towards having wood in my mouth several times. My first encounters with sustainable bamboo toothbrushes were not exactly all happy. However, the Hydrophil toothbrush purchased for this test surprised me. No, the sensation of wood on the inside of my cheeks and lips has not gotten better, but the toothbrush head is so narrow and the bristles are set in such a manner that the cleaning capacity of the Hydrophil (Medium) seriously beats all of the contestants’.
The efficiency and the lightness made me actually forget about the bamboo and go all “wow-wow-wow” during the process.
Choose this if you’re wary of bioplastics (just remember: the bristles are plastic, too, and all of the brands listed here have bristles that won’t biodegrade – such is simply the state of what’s technically possible) and don’t mind the carbon footprint of the transport.

Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Toothpaste
Ingredients:             Glycerin [1], Aqua (Water), Silica, Hydrated Silica, Calcium Carbonate, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Bicarbonate, Potassium cocoate (saponified coconut oil) [2], Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil [1], Sodium sulphate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract [2], Citric Acid, Stevia Rebaudiana Leaf/Stem Extract [1], Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder (Aloe Vera) [1], Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil [2], Menthol [1], Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil [1], Limonene [3]

[1] Organic
[2] Organic and Fair-Trade
[3] Naturally occurring in essential oil

Testing natural dental care: organic toothpaste and sustainable toothbrushes (here: Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Toothpaste and Tiomatik)
Organic:                     70%
Questionnables:       Not by the current body of knowledge, although I would prefer the formula to go sans glycerin (I have no hard-core, scientific reasons for it, only what I heard from holistic dentists)
Contents/ price:       140 g/ €9
Packaging:                 Plastic tube and paper box
End of life:                 Can be recycled (100%)
(Packaging)
Unique feature(s):   If you’re too much of a “civilised man” or woman, and are in disdain at the thought of brushing your teeth with coconut oil, this is the toothpaste with all the benefits thereof and none of the “strange gargling with oil”.
Test drive:
Suuuuper mild in taste, the Peppermint Toothpaste has replaced the former favourite in the casa BEAUTYCALYPSE (one that’s very good but unfortunately contains TD) with flying colours. The texture is creamy and thick, and spreads easily, allowing you to cover each chopper with toothpaste. Personally, I take pleasure in the pearly, off-white colour too – it just looks so much nicer than bland white to me.

My Magic Mud toothpaste on a green Biobrush Berlin toothbrushMy Magic Mud, Dr. Bronner's – organic toothpaste test

My Magic Mud Activated Charcoal Coconut Oil Bentonite Clay Peppermint
Ingredients:             Distilled Water, Coconut Oil*, Bentonite Clay, Vanilla Extract*, Peppermint Oil*, Wintergreen Oil*, Cinnamon Leaf Extract*, Clove Oil*, Cacao Powder*, Activated Coconut Shell Charcoal, Orange Peel Oil*, Stevia*, Tea Tree Oil*.
* Certified organic
Organic:                    95%
Questionnables:       None (although it’s worth noting that charcoal can be questionable in other formulas by other brands – but My Magic Mud go out of their way to ensure the safety and efficiency of their product)
Contents/ price:       113 g/ €13
Packaging:               Cardboard box and a plastic tube
End of life:                Paper/ household waste
(Packaging)
Unique feature(s):   My Magic Mud make sure that their charcoal powders and pastes remain non-abrasive and safe for everyday use (the term for you to look for is “RDA testing) and have managed to ensure that the activated charcoal in their toothpaste remains, well, “activated”.

They had the whitening (or, to be accurate: the stain-removing) power of their toothpowder and toothpaste verified. Enough times products marketed as active charcoal proved to be but conventional products tinted black with often questionable ingredients.

So, if you look for a gently whitening toothpaste for daily use, want to play it safe both in terms of quality ingredients AND non-abrasiveness, then My Magic Mud is for you.

Test drive:
It does look strange when you’re brushing your teeth and there is a slightly foamy dark grey substance in your mouth 😀 However, that’s as far as side effects go – the toothpaste has a pleasant creamy texture, a very pleasant and mild peppermint aroma that’s not too bland (notice they have added wintergreen, cinnamon, clove and orange peel) and is only gently sweetened with stevia. I had the possibility to test My Magic Mud before they started selling in Germany, and I was wary of the “too good to be true” promises. I still won’t use My Magic Mud on a daily basis, but then I also luuuuuv me some variety, so I use it when I fancy… A toothpaste bar! Because: why the hell not?

Denttabs Tablets Stevia-Mint Fluoride-Free
Ingredients:             Microcrystalline Cellulose, Sodium Bicarbonate, Silica, Sodium Lauroyl Glutamate, Magnesium Stearate, Aroma*, Menthol, Xanthan Gum, Stevioside, Citric Acid, ** Eugenol
* Natural mint scent
** Naturally occurring in essential oil
Organic:                    Cosmos Natural (BDIH) certified
Questionnables:       None; and the company meticulously addresses all consumer concerns on their website using studies and evaluations performed on their product to share the knowledge
Contents/ price:       125 tablets/ €5.99
Packaging:                Single-use plastic jar OR in bulk in packaging-free stores ❤
End of life:                Household waste OR zero waste ❤
(Packaging)
Unique feature(s):   Water-free tablets. Formula and texture make your teeth not only cleaner but also smoother. Thanks to the high content of cellulose in the non-abrasive (!) formula, the teeth surface is polished, which makes it harder for bacteria and debris to cling to them choppers. Requires the use of a very soft toothbrush.

In this picture, you see the amount of “toothpaste” produced from one DENTTABS tablet for reference, placed onto the Hydrophil brush:

Test drive:
The main caveat of the DENTTABS tablets is that they are dry. This is also their main feature. Lemmesplain.
Because the tablets are formulated without any water, there is no need to add preservatives or stabilising agents. But because they are dry and dense, some people find they need some time to get used to the chewing. I find it much easier to chew my DENTTABS tablet by simply taking a small sip of water – or, if you’re very fancy, crush it with a Caipirinha pestle in an espresso cup, just like I did for the sake of the photo (above).
Obviously DENTTABS are perfect for zero-waste enthusiasts, for frequent travellers and for minimalists. They’re also on constant re-purchase mode in the casa BEAUTYCALYPSE.

As you can see, there are really interesting organic and sustainable options out there, accommodating different style preferences and different eco-friendly priorities.
All YOU need to do is find the ones that are the best for you and – believe me – even if you might experience a few disappointments along the way, you’re bound to find exceptional dental care products that you may think were made just for you.