I think it’s high time that we admit, as a society, that we have some things figured out – like toothbrushing and face washing. But apparently, some companies don’t think so. Despite the plethora of product forms and formulations that already exist, manufacturers seem to need to find still more ways to sell us more stuff. In recent years I’ve noticed a creeping tide of disposability, even as many of us tote canvas bags to eliminate plastic bag waste. While I work to reduce the amount of trash I put on the curb each week, companies like Oral B seem hell-bent on adding to it.


Case in point: The Oral B Pulsar toothbrush (which, uh, brushes your teeth so you don’t have to move your arm around) is not only a pointless device, it was designed from the get-go to be disposable. Yep, you’re supposed to just chuck these hunks of plastic (including attendent batteries and motors) in the trash when you’re finished with them. Toothbrush heads should be replaced every 2-3 months according to the ADA, and from online reports this is about how long the battery in the unit lasts. Does this strike anyone as incredibly stupid and wasteful (hallmarks of bad design) or is it just me?

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To basically take a perfectly reusable product like a powered toothbrush (in most cases, just the heads are disposable/replaceable), and convert it to a throw-away through design is just insulting.

Now, before you get upset with me for attacking electric toothbrushes, let me clarify; the Oral B Pulsar is wholly disposable, different from an electric toothbrush you can buy and keep for years. I understand that some people really like toothbrushes with little powered rotating heads because they think they get their teeth cleaner – fine (I make it a habit not to argue about dental hygiene). If such are your needs in this world, then invest in a rechargeable electric toothbrush and I will leave you alone. Hey, I’ll admit to having giant electric curlers – nobody is perfect. BUT to basically take a perfectly reusable product like a powered toothbrush (in most cases, just the heads are disposable/replaceable), and convert it to a throw-away through design is just insulting.

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Photo: Instructables user Nairda

Hearteningly, some smart folks have been working on hacking the toothbrush in order to extract the motor inside so that it can be used for something else. Doesn’t it strike Oral B that something is wrong when people are making YouTube vids and Instructables photo sets about how to get more mileage out of their toothbrushes or reuse the parts at home?

It seems like this flood of hard, unrecyclable plastic is increasing, even as we become more aware about the lifecycle of products.

With companies winning “Product of the Year” awards for disposable crap (The Colgate Wisp, a one-time use toothbrush that includes toothpaste built-in is one such example), it seems like this flood of hard, unrecyclable plastic is increasing, even as we become more aware about the lifecycle of products (if you haven’t checked out Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff, take a gander). If we are going to make disposable stuff, it should be biodegradable, compostable, or at the very least, recyclable.

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I’ve been using the Radius Source toothbrush for over two years now. It’s not electric, because I like to give my arms a workout at least once a day. Not only is the bulk of the brush’s handle made of recycled dollar bills, it feels good in my hand, and I only replace the heads. My travel toothbrush is a Recycline, made from recycled plastic that can again be recycled – another great, widely available option.

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+ Radius Source Toothbrush

+ Recycline Toothbrush


Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)