According to the American Dental Association, we should replace our toothbrush every 3 to 4 months, or sooner, if the bristles begin to wear out. While this is a healthy practice, each year billions of plastic toothbrushes, that cannot biodegrade, end up in landfills and our oceans.
Despite the fact that toothbrushes are plastic, you can’t just throw them into the recycling bin. This is because the handle and bristles are made from two different kinds of plastics, each with a different recycling code. The handle is usually recycling code #5, while the nylon bristles are recycling code #7. Also, the bristles are typically stapled together with metal.
It is difficult for recycling centers to separate these mixed materials and not all can do it – or will do it. But that doesn’t mean your toothbrush can’t be recycled. It’s just that instead of a traditional recycling center, you can send it to Terracycle… along with any bottles and caps from mouthwash, deodorant, toothpaste tubes, floss containers and soap packaging.
Once collected, Terracycle separates the materials, shreds and cleans them, then melts them into hard plastic. These plastics are then remolded into new recycled products.
To help manage the process, Terracycle partners with brands, such as Tom’s of Maine and Colgate, to help setup special drop-off locations. To clarify, these locations are not “recycling centers”; rather they are local businesses that have volunteered to collect the items.
Here’s the Tom’s of Maine map of drop-off locations, for example. (Click the map to easily find the closest location.) Tom’s also provides a way that you can participate, by volunteering your organization as a drop-off location.
To donate / recycle your oral care or other difficult-to-recycle items, you’ll need to join Terracycle through one of its brand partners. From there, you’ll receive helpful information and free shipping envelopes to recycle your waste.