Gallery: Egregious Packaging Hall of Fame: Oral B Pulsar Toothbrush


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?

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.

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.

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.

+ 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 (


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  1. Egregious Packaging Hal... September 20, 2010 at 10:44 am

    […] way that most electronics (and their concomitant accessories, additional parts and hardware) are packaged is really, really annoying. We’ve all had the experience of purchasing a shiny (or matte, if […]

  2. nikna August 15, 2010 at 6:26 am

    even worse is that manufacturers are pushing towards ever more shorter product use cycles. Products are not anymore made to last, and that causes even more impact on heavy disposal, than bad product design. But I couldn’t agree more, we don’t need a car to go shopping next block, neater a help for brushing our teethes.

  3. Ju August 14, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    What does it mean? That I, another little brick, make such an effort to enhance my good eco-acts and huge conglomerates aren’t giving a damn?

    Paradoxical as it might seem, it motivates me.

  4. Egregious Packaging Win... August 14, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    […] your life “easier.” But when conspicuous consumption trickles down to something as simple as brushing your teeth, you’d better believe something is awry. In this week’s installment of “Packaging the […]

  5. DavidW August 12, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    You think this Oral B thing is bad you have to see the new Sensodyne aerosol can toothpaste tube they are introducing soon. I am a Dentist and I was totally shocked at this metal shaving foam type can being used to deliver a more frothy type of toothpaste that of course is so much better just because it froths and gets into all the small nooks and crannies.I have never owned and electric toothbrush and have not had any decay for decades……laziness just seems to be the order of the day!!

  6. Lea Bogdan August 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    Radius is a great company. Some of the first projects I worked on as a wee young designer were for them (personal cases). Another the team worked on, while I was working at Eldon Design Associates, was an “electric” toothbrush for Radius. It is essentially a timer embedded in the handle which helps kids know they are brushing long enough, and replacing the heads often enough.

  7. Sara Ost August 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Thank you for this. Could not agree more. The Wisp in particular gets me so furious!

  8. nigmarc August 12, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    I am complete agreement regarding stupid packaging and the throwaway nature of our society HOWEVER I would like to point one thing out to the author… electric toothbrushes are not just for those too lazy to brush themselves and its somewhat offensive of you to say so. I have massive problems with sensitive gums to the point where I have to use aloevera toothpaste and a sonic type electric toothbrush. Using a manual toothbrush or even a regular rotating electric one for more than a couple of days results in bleeding gums. At home I have a rechargeable model but this is impracticable for travel so I use one of the oralB disposables you’re slagging off.

    My point is that yes having a general disposable attitude towards products is extremely bad but sometimes these products are necessary for certain niche markets.

  9. Mike Chino August 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Brilliant – hack your toothbrush!

  10. chrismerwin August 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    I always wondered about the connection between your 2-months of use and the compulsion to buy a new toothbrush. I love the idea of just buying a reusable head and I think the toothbrush looks more elegant too!

  11. Diane Pham August 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    great post. i really can’t get over how wasteful society has become and how many unpractical, sloth inducing products are thrown at us under the guise of making our lives easier.

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