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Bamboo Toothbrush handles are compostable. What about the bristles?

Bamboo Toothbrush handles are compostable. What about the bristles?

Unless you buy a bamboo toothbrush made with a hogs hair bristle, you can't buy a fully compostable toothbrush

Bamboo toothbrushes are definitely a way better option than a plastic handled toothbrush and they are a great example of the kind of choices we have to make every day when we are trying to live more sustainably. Life is pretty much made up of what we call the making the least worst decision. Good at one end and not so much at the other, but still better than any alternative.

The handles of bamboo toothbrushes are compostable, but the bristles are plastic. The only compostable bristle in the world is a hog's hair bristle. All the other bristles on all the other toothbrushes are some kind of plastic. Most are petroleum based plastic bristles and some are plant based plastic bristles. The way tooth brushes are marketed - at the retail and wholesale level is the reason it gets confusing. There are two main issues - one is a blatant untruth and the other a selective truth.

First the blatant untruth

At least one Chinese manufacturer of bamboo toothbrushes has been claiming for years that his toothbrush bristles are Nylon 4 Plastic, bamboo viscose or some other biodegrable plastic. To our knowledge, with the exception of a hogs hair toothbrush sold in Germany, and a brush sold in USA by Brush with Bamboo, all bristles are Nylon 6. And neither are compostable or biodegradable in this lifetime.

The selective truth

It is true that bamboo is an incredibly fast growing plant, needing very little water and no pesticides or fertilisers to grow. Many bamboo toothbrushes are made from wild growing Moso Bamboo in China.

Anything made of pure bamboo - like the handle of a toothbrush, will easily compost and leave no residual nasty by-products or cause any harm. The problem isn't the bamboo, but the bit where the bristles hang out. And that is the bit which often gets selectively ignored when the toothbrush story is told.

Many sellers of bamboo tooth brushes focus on telling the story of the handles - the wonderful story of how bamboo is grown and decomposes. And it's an important storyas bamboo replaces traditional petroleum based plastic handled toothbrushes. Without question, a bamboo handled toothbrush is better than a plastic handled toothbrush, but plastic bristles are still plastic bristles. 

Plant based plastic bristles

Increasingly, toothbrushes like those sold by USA based company, Brush with Bamboo, are appearing with plant based plastic bristles. While these bristles are better as they are not petroleum based in their entirety, they are still about 1/3 nylon and they do not biodegrade - something readily acknowledged by Brush with Bamboo.


Pretty much every seller of bamboo toothbrushes packages in compostable board. This option is way way better than moulded plastic stuck on cardboard that has been traditional supermarket fare. 

Other Extra bits

There are a few manufacturers of coloured handle bamboo toothbrushes. Some are simply painted. Others have an added plastic strip. Stay away from bamboo with added plastic. After converting to bamboo brushing, there is little point in getting trapped into adding just a bit of plastic to the handle. It kind of defeats that you set out to achieve in the first place!  

The thing to remember with any product is to look as closely for what is left out of a story as what is in the story. Bamboo is an amazing product in it's pure form, but once you get past the pure product, there are invariably many other stories to be told. 

Bamboo toothbrushes are an excellent alternative to plastic, even as they are not perfect. Simply make sure you cut the head off your brush before putting it in the compost. The brush still goes in landfill.

Images: Unsplash | Laura Mitulla / Superkitina
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Simone N

Excellent information thank you Ekko! I have a few questions as this is an area of inertia for me. My dentist insists an electric toothbrush is best and I already own one so i’m Torn about chucking the whole unit out in favour of bamboo - different story when it dies altogether. I also question conventional toothpaste because i’m Keen to make my own but my dentist tells me it won’t cut the mustard! Do you have an eco friendly dentist who can help advise on the least worst decision without sacrificing your teeth (because time and money spent at the dentist takes me away from other eco pursuits 😉). Wednesday, 12 June 2019