Life Cycle of a Toothbrush


One billion toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the U.S. and most of them are made of plastic, so our plastic toothbrushes are contributing to our huge plastic problem.  It’s an item that almost everyone in the world uses several times a day, making it essential to our daily routine. Normally, you use a toothbrush for 3 months until you throw it away and replace it with a new one. But how is a toothbrush made?

“toothbrush” by dave is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

You can divide the production of the toothbrush into three steps, the handle, the bristles, and the packaging. To make the handle, plastic granules begin to be melted. After liquefaction, the plastic is then injected into a mold for the toothbrush handle using an injection molding machine. To obtain the correct shape for the toothbrush handle, the molds are pressed while the plastic cools. After cooling, the handles can be removed from the mold and the next step can begin. Next, the toothbrush bristles are attached. They are usually made of nylon, as it is soft enough to brush your teeth with but hard enough to use more often. The bristles are then attached to the “head” of the handle and clamped in place. After that, the bristles must be cut, which is usually done with a machine that can cut the bristles exactly to the desired length and shape. After that the toothbrush has to be packed, in most cases, the packaging is a combination of plastic and cardboard.

Now the toothbrush is manufactured and packaged but the journey is far from over because now the toothbrush is transported to the stores and made available for sale to customers. Toothbrushes can be found in any drugstore, grocery store, or you can order them on the Internet. A normal manual toothbrush costs about $1 on average. The toothbrush stays in the store until it is sold. If a toothbrush was then bought it is then used in most cases several times a day. After about three months of use, the toothbrush wears out and loses its effectiveness. Then it is time for the consumer to buy a new one and the old toothbrush ends up in the trash. For the buyer, it now looks as if the life of the toothbrush is over, but, it has just begun. Because it will go about 1000 years until the toothbrush decomposes. In most cases, it will end up in a landfill or in our ocean, where it will remain unchanged for many years.

After looking at the product cycle of a toothbrush, one realizes that the toothbrush is a potential hazard to our environment and wildlife because it takes such a long time to decompose completely. Furthermore, it is difficult to recycle toothbrushes, currently, just an extremely small amount of toothbrushes are recycled in the US because they contain different types of plastic (handle is made of molded polypropylene and polyethylene, and bristles are made of nylon). Therefore, the question arises whether there are alternatives to plastic toothbrushes, or what can be done to make toothbrushes more sustainable.

One possibility is a toothbrush made of a bamboo handle, although these toothbrushes are not completely plastic-free, because the bristles are mostly made of nylon, at least the bamboo handle is quite unproblematic and biodegradable. Furthermore, bamboo is a sustainable raw material, as it grows back extremely quickly, so there is no risk that the stock is endangered. In addition, there are toothbrushes where you keep the handle and only change the toothbrush head regularly, which at least saves the plastic from the handle.  Another idea is not to dispose of the toothbrush immediately after it loses its effectiveness but to reuse it for other purposes. For example, you could use it in the kitchen to clean toasters, microwaves, or coffee machines, or in the bathroom to clean the grooves between the tiles and remove hair from your brush.

Nature or Plastic?

When I was searching the Internet for a suitable topic for this blog, I came across this photo which fascinated me. At first glance, it looked like the picture was of a coral, but when I took a closer look at the picture and read the caption, I realized that it was of individual fishing gloves that together resemble a coral. The photo made me curious, so I wanted to learn more about the photographer and her works.

Mandy Barker is the photographer of this image she is from the UK and is known for working with marine plastic waste. The goal of Barker’s work is to engage the viewer and trigger an emotional response by combining a contradiction between the initial aesthetic appeal and the subsequent message of awareness. Further, she collaborates with scientists to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and highlight the harmful effects it has on marine life and ourselves – ultimately prompting the viewer to take action.

Barker has been creating art from plastic waste for more than a decade. She was initially a graphic designer before taking up a degree in photography at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK, in 2008. During her time there, she decided to address the ever-growing problem of plastic waste, which she had noticed increasing along the English coast. “She used to collect driftwood, but over time more and more plastic waste was washing up, she wanted to do something about it and wanted to try out if photography could be a tool.”

Mandy Barker is internationally known and her work has been published in 50 countries Her work has been exhibited worldwide, including at the MoMA Museum of Modern Art, the United Nations Headquarters in New York. She is the recipient of the 2018 National Geographic Society Grant for Research and Exploration and author of her first book, Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals, which was selected as one of the top ten photography books of 2019.

Her first series of photographs, called “Indefinite” from 2010, focuses on individual pieces of plastic, unwashed and unaltered, which Barker found on the coast and then brought to her home and photographed against a black velvet background. They resemble the appearance of various sea creatures but are man-made from plastic, the material that is deadly to the animals and organisms themselves. As they gradually decompose, they are often ingested as microplastic particles.

There are 13 other photo series on Mandy Barker’s website. One that particularly caught my eye is her “Penalty” series in which she specifically chooses the subject of soccer in relation to marine pollution. In her project, she involved citizens from all over the world, calling on them via social media to collect soccer balls they find on the coast or in the ocean and post them. In total, 992 marine debris balls were recovered from the world’s oceans in just 4 months. 769 footballs and parts of them and 223 other types of balls were found by 89 citizens from 41 different countries. The trigger for this project was the 2014 World Cup to raise awareness about the issue of polluting our oceans during an international sporting event.

All in all, Mandy Barker’s works fascinated and shocked me. Because on one hand her photos seem beautiful and aesthetic, but on closer inspection, you notice that they are not natural, but plastic which is considered the opposite of aesthetic. It makes me sad to know how many plastic pieces, as Barker depicts them in her photos, swim into the ocean and destroy our nature.

The Ocean Cleanup our future solution in the fight against the plastic pollution?


More than 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently litter the oceans, and about 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans each year, making up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. And this amount entering the ocean is expected to nearly triple to 29 million tons annually by 2040, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Meanwhile, there are five giant plastic garbage patches in the ocean, to be exact: the North Atlantic, the South Atlantic, the North Pacific, the South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean garbage patch, which have a significant impact on the ocean. This is because not only are coasts polluted by plastic trash, but the trash also harms marine animals in particular, which can get caught in larger pieces and mistake smaller pieces for food and swallow them. Swallowing plastic particles can prevent them from digesting normal food and cause toxic chemical pollutants to build up in their organisms. Humans also ingest plastic through the food chain. The effects on health are as yet unknown.

"File:Boyan Slat (2018).jpg" by DWDD is licensed under CC BY 3.0

“File: Boyan Slat (2018).jpg” by DWDD is licensed under CC BY 3.0


Numerous projects and organizations are committed to combating plastic pollution in our oceans, one project that has been launched to much media attention is The Ocean Cleanup. The Ocean Cleanup is a non-profit organization that develops advanced technologies to rid the oceans of plastic and was founded in 2013 by Boyan Slat, a 19-year-old Dutchman at the time. The goal is to remove 90% of floating plastic from the oceans by 2040.


The plastic catcher consists of a long tube-like or hose-like u-shaped construction made of plastic, which is supposed to be up to 600 meters long, depending on the model, and float on the sea like a crescent moon. Below it, a five-meter-long plastic curtain hangs down into the water. The plastic waste is supposed to stick to this curtain. The system should also be able to trap plastic as small as 1mm. To ensure that this floating barrier does not float in front of the garbage, but catches it, it has an anchor that hangs freely in the water at a depth of 600 meters. This slows down the floating body so that the current drive the trash in. Every few weeks, a ship is then supposed to come by and collect the trash and transport it back to shore, where it is recycled or incinerated.

May 2018 saw the first deployment, of the system after several experiments with prototypes since 2016. The system 001, about 120m long, was tested for about two weeks 90km from the Golden Gate Bridge on the open sea. However, there were some problems and the captured plastic could not be held as planned. The system collected 8.2 tons of plastic during the 120-hour deployment this August, which is less than the normal load of a garbage truck equivalent

200127 037 Maritime Museum of San Diego - Pilot boat cruise of San Diego Bay, Maersk Transporter Ocean Cleanup Vessel, designed to remove floating plastic waste from the ocean

“200127 037 Maritime Museum of San Diego – Pilot boat cruise of San Diego Bay, Maersk Transporter Ocean Cleanup Vessel, designed to remove floating plastic waste from the ocean” by cultivar413 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The project has a very ambitious goal and also brings some good points because it proposes a solution to a huge problem. It makes use of the force of the wind, waves, and currents to capture plastic on the open sea, which is almost impossible to do in any other way. It also tries to impact wildlife as little as possible, as larger marine life such as fish or turtles can dive through under the filter. Furthermore, it tries to reverse or reduce the negative effects caused by plastic.

However, there are also many negative sides and problems with the project, because first of all the project is enormously complex and extremely expensive one estimates that, one, to remove approximately 20,000 tons hundreds of million-dollar would need. In addition, the constant transportation of the ships emits a lot of exhaust gases and requires a lot of fossil fuels, which in turn are harmful to our environment. Furthermore, the system can only remove plastic with a density lower than saltwater, plastic located in the deep sea cannot be removed. And finally, recent trials have shown that the systems still have many flaws and problems and are definitely not as effective as hoped.

All in all, The Ocean Cleanup is a good idea from my point of view, but cannot be implemented in reality as it should be. In addition, the project only fights the symptom and not the cause, which gives the feeling that we as a society do not have to change anything and this way of thinking is fatal. To start at the end, when the plastic is already floating in the sea is too late – we have to focus on our general plastic handling in general.

Little Changes-Big Differences


From 2 million tonnes per year to 381 million in only 65 years. Our plastic consumption is increasing immeasurably, especially in recent years. We can’t even imagine how our life without plastic would be because everything is made of plastic in our life’s as we saw in the last Blog. However, our life of plastic has disastrous consequences for the natural environment. Just 9% percent of our plastic will be recycled and only 2% will be recycled effectively the other 7% will be downcycled. The remaining plastic land in our environment especially in our oceans. Oftentimes the marine creatures think the plastic waste in the ocean is food but, plastic is indigestible, and the animal can thus no longer eat food and starves to death with a full stomach. And with the seafood, the plastic is landing on our plates. That is just one example of how plastic has catastrophic impacts on our environment, but it shows that we need to reduce our plastic use.

I began to think about how I can use less plastic in my daily routine, and I was surprised how many opportunities I have to reduce my plastic. The following table is showing some examples:

Type of Grocery item Brand I buy now Less Plastic Alternative
Waterbottle Vittel Reusable bottle made of glass or stainless steel
Cornflakes General Mills Cornflakes packed in a cardboard box (Mymuesli) or buy it in a Packaging free grocery store
Choclate Hersheys Packaging made of cardboard and compostable film cellulose


Detergent Tide Packed in cardboard box (dropps)



From Plastic to plastic-free Care and Cleaning items

Type of Product Brand I Buy now Less-Plastic Alternative
shampoo Kérastase solid shampoo without plastic packaging packed in a cardboard box (Foamie)
Face mask Luvos Made it own your own
Brush L’ange Brush made of wood and has natural bristles (Aveda)
soap softsoap Packed in Cardboard (Dr.Squatch)

Those are just a few examples but there are various plastic-free alternatives especially in this to categories of items. Besides I found for the products easily and rapidly after searching on the Internet a plastic-free alternative which is more sustainable. In the Grocery store, it was more difficult and took more time to find the plastic-free alternative and there was not a wide of goods. Another disadvantage is that plenty of plastic-free items are much more expensive than plastic items. For example, my pack of Cornflakes General Mills costs 5$ whereas a pack of Mymuesli would cost 10$ which is the double price. Unfortunately for me as a student with not much money it is difficult to replace many items I use now and buy instead the expensive plastic-free alternative. However, there are as well fewer Plastic Alternative, which is cheaper especially if you focus on reuse, refuse, or repair the items. For example, if I use a reusable bottle and fill it up with tap water instead of buying always new water bottles, I would save money as well as if I made a face mask on my own instead of buying it in the store.

My plastic items and some alternatives

(My plastic items and some sustainable alternatives)

I believe that little changes in our daily routine can make a difference, particularly when everybody thinks like this. Therefore, I considered that I will replace, reuse and refuse some plastic items in my life (In addition to them I mentioned in the last section). The first item I will replace is my shower soap the same brand I use at the moment has a plastic-free alternative and costs just 2 euros more. Another thing I will refuse is the plastic cutlery and cups in the dining halls. Instead, always get new plastic forks, knives, and spoons I will bring my plastic-free cutlery, or I will reuse my plastic cutlery. And I will try to bring my reusable water bottle to the dining halls that I don’t need to use a plastic cup. An item I will reuse are bags then always when I purchase something I get new bags now I will try when I go to the grocery store to always bring my bag with me that I don’t need to get another one.

(plastic-free and “normal” shower soap)

Nevertheless, there are plastic items I can’t replace at the moment and one of the items is my laptop. I use it every day and depend on it for example to write this Blog. Furthermore, I couldn’t find a plastic-free option and if they are some, they are probably not financeable for me.

In conclusion, we must stop using so much plastic because it has already catastrophic consequences for our environment, and it will have huge impacts on the future of our planet. Therefore we need to reduce our plastic use. We don’t need immediately to live a plastic-free life because of plenty of necessary items we can’t refuse or replace at the moment, but we can try to take little steps to a more sustainable and plastic-free life. If everybody in the world just takes a little step and refuses a few items in his daily life it would be a big step for all of us and will make a huge difference for our planet.

Plastic Life?


59 This is the number of plastic objects I touched in one day. It would be even more if I had counted the items, I touched more than once. Furthermore, I probably also touched a plenty of objects that I was not even aware that they were made of plastic. In Today’s world we literally sink in in plastic so that we do not even notice any more if we touch a plastic object. So, it was with me, before this self-experiment I was not even aware that so much in my life consists of plastic. But after the first hour of my self-experiment, I was shocked because I had already touched about 25 plastic items in the first hour of my day and I also realized that almost everything in my bathroom is made of plastic. At the end of the day, I realized what a huge amount of plastic I had touched in one day.

I have divided my plastic items in different categories so I can better evaluate my result:

1. Electronic devices=7 items     examples= mobile, laptop charger

2. Bathroom products=20 items     examples= shampoo, toothbrush

3. Food=8 items     examples= yogurt cup, muesli package

4. Study Supplies=10 items     examples= pens, block

5. Sport= 5 items     examples= Ball bucket, gym bag

6. Other things= 9 items     examples= Laundry bag, cleaning rag packing

After evaluating my list of plastic items, I noticed two categories in particular where I could reduce my plastic consumption the easiest and that is Bathroom products and Food. Because especially in these categories, I used a lot of disposable plastic items, which is why I collected all single-use plastic items on another day. After the experiment, I came to the conclusion that almost all the items were in the categories (as already suspected) Bathroom and Food. And I would also say the disposable plastic items I collected that day reflected my disposable plastic use well

My Disposable Plastic in one day

  And after thinking about it, I also came up with ideas on how to reduce my single-use plastic consumption. However, I also realized how difficult it is to implement some of them in the US.

One example from the Bathroom category is to use solid shampoo, shower gel and toothpaste which is packaged completely plastic free or even a bamboo toothbrush and hairbrush are good alternatives which are usually only a few dollars more expensive than the plastic ones. Another example, which unfortunately can hardly be implemented in the USA is to shop in plastic-free sections of supermarkets, especially for food, or in completely plastic-free supermarkets, which have been around for a few years in Germany. However, after research I noticed that there are hardly any such supermarkets in the USA.

Despite some ideas, it is difficult from my point of view as a student to greatly reduce his plastic use. For example, in the dining halls there is a lot of plastic used, where it is relatively difficult for me as a student to avoid the plastic there. Another problem is that the plastic products are usually easier to get and cheaper than plastic-free products. Another point which I consider problematic is the possibility of recycling, because I find there are hardly any opportunities to use recycling facilities and if you want to find some you usually have to spend a lot of time on the subject, although there are isolated recycling garbage cans on campus, but I have the feeling that it is not taken so seriously.


But even after the self-experiments with the shocking results for me and the many problems that I became aware of I do not feel guilty and think that you should not feel guilty too. To deal with the topic in depth is already a start and it has motivated me to reduce my plastic footprint and to go more consciously through life.