Lifecycle of a toothbrush

Lifecycle of a toothbrush! Its components and effects

The first thing that we do when we wake up in the morning is mindlessly getting a hold of our toothbrush. Have you ever given enough thought to think about the seemingly insignificant object?  We don’t really give our toothbrushes a second thought. Yes, it’s just a toothbrush; yet, when we examine its entire life cycle, we get to see how far-reaching the problem really is. In reality, plastic toothbrushes have a much longer life than us humans. They stick around for hundreds of years.

In this article, I am going to break down the life-cycle of a toothbrush to give you an idea of how our subconscious decision making has a significant impact on the environment.

The birth of a plastic toothbrush

Our toothbrushes first start their journey as oil. Crude oil, natural gas, and coal are used to make synthetic polymers. Plastic can be made either synthetically or it can be ‘biobased. These plastics, on the other hand, are made from resources such carbohydrates, starch, vegetable fats and oils, microorganisms, and other biological materials.

Given the ease of manufacturing involved in crude oil processing, the majority of plastic in use today is synthetic. Although the growing demand for the limited oil reserves compels us to look for better renewable modes of plastic production.

The oil is then sent to a refinery which separates the oil into plastic pellets.

Components of a toothbrush

Let’s dig deeper into what the toothbrushes are made of. One by one I’m going to dissect the toothbrush and break down each component’s production process.

Plastic toothbrush
Image courtesy :

The handle

To make the handle, plastic pellets are melted down and shaped with a mold. The plastic is poured into a toothbrush handle-shaped mold. The molds are squeezed as the plastic cools to ensure optimal molding. The plastic handles are then taken from the molds and prepped for the for next step once they have completely cooled.

The bristles

It’s time to attach the bristles after the plastic handle has cooled. The toothbrush bristles are made of nylon, which is gentle enough to use on the teeth while also making it durable enough to survive repeated usage. The bristles are stapled in place and attached to the toothbrush’s core. It will need to be trimmed once they’ve been installed; this is done with a machine that can precisely trim the bristles to the proper length and form.

Packaging these toothbrushes

After all this work is done, the brushes are packed into boxes that are again made up of a combination of plastics and cardboard.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we should change our toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months. After that, the bristles will start to wear off and the brush won’t be as effective as it should be.

So, what do we do when we are done with it? Throw it in the bins, right? You would think that the cycle ends here but not even close! The plastic toothbrush just started its life. It would stick around for more than 500 years to come.

The plastic toothbrush is going to see the world longer than we!

The total number of plastic toothbrushes being produced, used, and thrown away each year has grown steadily since the first one was made in the 1930s.

The disposal of a plastic toothbrush

Once discarded, toothbrushes spend rest of their life in landfills. Plastic doesn’t decompose because it is not organic material. The majority of today’s plastics are manufactured of polyethylene terephthalate, which is practically unbreakable. The polymers are very tough to disintegrate since microbes are unable to break them down.

When you use a plastic toothbrush, you’re contributing to the 4.7 billion that end up in landfills every year. That’s enough toothbrushes to wrap around the earth 4 times! Plastic toothbrushes are also one of the most significant contributors to ocean pollution, the health of marine species, food safety and climate change. Seabirds, whales, fish, and turtles mistake plastic waste for food, and the majority of them starve to death as their bellies fill with plastic.

Over 1 million marine animals (including mammals, fish, sharks, turtles, and birds) are killed each year due to plastic debris in the ocean

The plastics also cannot be burnt. When plastic garbage is incinerated, carbon dioxide and methane are released into the atmosphere, increasing emissions. Thus, contributing to climate change.

Natural materials were used to make the basic toothbrush for centuries. Manufacturers began replacing nylon and other polymers into the design in the early twentieth century, during the days of plastic innovation, and have never looked back.


Plastic has infiltrated toothbrush design to the point that it’s practically impossible to brush our teeth without coming into contact with a polymer. Because plastic is practically indestructible, nearly every toothbrush produced since the 1930s is still alive and well somewhere in the world as a piece of trash.

What can we do to a plastic toothbrush?

Bamboo toothbrushes are a terrific plastic-free alternative that won’t hurt the environment and may be thrown away without remorse. Plastic-free alternatives are a booming business, with alternatives sprouting up everywhere as consumers become more conscious. Using a natural material that is durable, water-resistant, antibacterial, and biodegradable is advantageous because it will not pollute once discarded.

Yes, plastic toothbrushes are cheaper in monetary value but if we think about it, they are very expensive materials that do not only cost us our money but also the world that we live in. Here are some bamboo toothbrushes for you to do your part.


Shifting to bamboo brushes would require a huge cultural shift. Change takes time. And because we have been using the same toothbrush design for more than 70 years and have caused enough trouble, maybe that time is now.

This blog is originally written by Ishita Paul. She is a Economics students from IPCW, University of Delhi. and a long time contributor to the Mission Sustainability.