Toothy grin?

  • Chris Jeavans
  • 11 Aug 08, 01:47 PM GMT

The apparently innocuous plastic toothbrush can turn into a wildlife hazard if junked improperly.

Scientists studying seabirds in the North Pacific have found toothbrushes (and many other plastic objects) in the stomachs of dead birds.

And founder of the Blue Ocean Institute, Carl Safina, describes in his book Eye of the Albatross how he watched an albatross on Hawaii trying to regurgitate a toothbrush as food for its chick.

Dentists recommend changing your toothbrush every three months so that's about 12 per year for our three-person household.

Admittedly, our dozen are unlikely to end up as ocean pollution but they will still go to landfill along with our other plastic waste.

toothbrush203.jpgMy plastic toothbrush was looking a bit dog-eared so I searched for an alternative and found a wooden toothbrush with natural bristles (aka sterilised pig bristles) which technically could be composted at the end of its lifespan.

The head was wrapped in a little bit of plastic but nothing like the all encompassing packaging for a normal toothbrush.

At £3.99 it was, however, about double the price of a normal toothbrush.

It is designed for a toddler but feels very similar to a basic adult toothbrush. And, once I'd got over the slightly odd idea of putting pig bristles in my mouth (although I'm not sure why it felt odd seeing as I'm not a vegetarian) it was fine.

Another option would have been to use a "chewing stick" - a traditional African and Asian way of cleaning teeth using twigs from certain plants such as the neem tree.

Toothpaste also comes in plastic packaging: even those brands which are available in a metal tube have a plastic lining and cap.

We haven't run out of paste as yet but I have tried making my own dentifrice (as it's properly known), with bicarbonate of soda, salt, peppermint oil and glycerine.

It is, I have to say, disgusting. Maybe I got the salt levels wrong but it was like taking a mouthful of the Dead Sea.

Janet Clarke of the British Dental Association warned that the concoction "does not offer the same oral health benefits" as paste which contains fluoride, including (worryingly) protection from bad breath.

She added that if the wooden toothbrush doesn't dry out properly it could become unhygienic.

I hope I manage to get through the month without losing too many friends.


  • Comment number 1.

    Have you tried an apple? Brainiac found that this was the best emergency toothbrush substitute.

    The reason why dentists tell you to change your toothbrush after 3 months is to sell more toothbrushes! We are all brushing our teeth too much these days anyway, which is why enamel thinning is becoming a problem.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Chris,

    Congratulations on joining the wooden toothbrush club. I and fellow Zero Waste enthusiasts have also tried this compostable alternative, enjoying the experience.
    Toothpaste is a problem. Some recipes tend to contain too much peppermint which is an irrritant to teeth and gums. I have yet to find a good home-made or proprietary type. The best option may be to contact current manufacturers, eg Colgate, to ask for an alternative package.

  • Comment number 3.

    Use recyclable plastic?

  • Comment number 4.

    The hygiene issue as mentioned by the BDA official is potentially a danger. With proper drying and airing the brush will be safely dry. The Dental profession are beholden to the toothbrush/toothpaste industry.

  • Comment number 5.

    I was just wondering if the ingredients for the dentifrice (salt, bicarbonate of soda, permermint oil and glycerine) come in plastic packaging? Also, black powder is used in India, I think its just a form of carbon. So, you can light a match and then blow it out. You can then crush the charred bit and use it to clean your teeth. This is only if you want to avoid buying the Indian powder which, I think comes in a plastic container.

  • Comment number 6.

    Pigs bristles and salt?
    Sorry, you can take things too far.....

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree that people in the modern world have gotten a bit carried away by the whole "brush your teeth twice a day" business!
    I can't imagine this brushing ones teeth ritual could be more than a few centuries old. How did ancient man manage before that? As long as one gargles properly with water after meals, I can't imagine why one would need to wipe ones teeth everyday (twice!) with fluoridated calcium bicarbonate.
    Looks more like capitalistic marketing to me!

  • Comment number 8.

    I take it the wood was sourced from a properly managed forest and that the pig feed wasn't delivered in plastic bags...

  • Comment number 9.

    re: thedazedguy

    Hey, do away with plastic shower curtains and just don't shower. People didn't used to bathe but once a week, if that.
    And while you're at it skip the deodorant packaged in plastic, since no one used to use it. Gosh shampoo can go too!
    However you might find that you have fewer friends! Wonder why?

  • Comment number 10.

    You can get proper African Toothsticks at many of the local markets, in London at least. Brixton definitely has them. Buy them singly or by the bundle - rubber band wrap, not plastic.

  • Comment number 11.

    Beth from Fake Plastic Fish may have the best advice for continued use of toothpaste tubes. Use a minimal amount to make the tube last longer. Until the big players join the plastic waste reduction challenge, we will just have to put up with the inconvenience.

  • Comment number 12.

    I've used bicarb as toothpaste in the past (just dab a damp toothbrush in a small tub of the stuff) recently switched to a fluoride-free wholefood-shop brand due to some sensitivity (from me being slack about brushing my teeth often enough, not the bicarb's fault!)

    Your concoction will certainly protect against bad breath as bicarb reacts with oral acids producing bacteria-killing oxygen bleaching. There is very little evidence that prophylactic sodium fluoride does anything to protect teeth. It might take a bit of getting used to but your mouth will thank you eventually for not slaking it in drain cleaner twice a day ;-)

  • Comment number 13.

    What an awfully boring debate this is turning out to be. A bunch of misinformed 'enthusiats' solely focused upon waste reduction at whatever the cost to melting icecaps.

    On the other side we have a small number of people who very clearly are extremely experienced, well researched and are stating facts based upon evidence available in the public domain as well as personal insight from their chosen fields of expertise.

    The enthusiasts just dig in, ignore the counter evidence, demonise all plastics as strangling the planet and proudly pat themselves on the back for using a high carbon wooden toothbrush with pig bristles.

    Well I'm here to tell you - your toothbrush aint making a jot of improvement to anything and is most definitely making it worse. It's very, very simple - if it's higher carbon it's bad - if it's lower carbon it's good. Sadly you seem blind to the fact that plastics are actually a carbon efficient versatile material. Just because we aint yet recycling some of them does not make them bad. If they are more carbon efficient over their entire life-cycle they are good. End of story.

    This whole premise of an anti-plastics campaign is fundamentally flawed in that the bygone solutions you guys keep coming up with are environmentally worse, and that is a fact! One which you are seemingly blind to seeing.

    If this debate is to progress it must grow and develop from 'we hate plastic' to 'we want to reduce our carbon footprint' otherwise the debate itself is unsustainable.

  • Comment number 14.

    What did people used to do?

    The answer is Toothpicks.

    It's a proven fact that the proper and regular use of these stops plaque development completely. Healthy gums, healthy teeth.

    And, of course, toothpicks are wooden, disposable and 100% environmentally friendly.

  • Comment number 15.


    Being made from wood does not make anything "environmentally friendly". Check out how wood is harvesting, hauled, chopped up, processed, bleached, shaped, packed, distributed etc. Check it out from a net environmental impact capared to plastic then come back and tell people how "environmentally friendly" it really is.

    Dont state assumptions with no evidence as fact. It merely leads to lislead the deate even further.

  • Comment number 16.

    I am now going for typing lessons, given I have seemingly lost the ability to spell!

  • Comment number 17.

    #13 - idontmuchbut

    I agree. The concept of life cycle analysis, energy consumption and carbon footprinting of products seems to be completely ignored by many in favour of misled conceptions of 'environmentally friendliness' based purely on impression

    We will not start to halt global warming by using a wooden toothbrush. We will do so by questioning the very use of many products, their production, sourcing, transportation, associated emissions and end of life disposal methods. I suspect plastic and its myriad uses are an easy and emotive target as well as being a very visible medium for attack.

  • Comment number 18.

    #7 ancient man died young with teeth or old and toothless. they also didn't have chocolate to content with.

  • Comment number 19.

    I honestly think that 'experiments' like this are a mere waste of time. By totally refraining from using plastics you still don't demonstrate an understanding of what is environmentally friendly, nor of what the Carbon Footprint is all about. More and more businesses are making moves towards environmental friendliness, and with time I believe things will improve. We can't all just run off and do things differently. We need to understand the past and understand technology and its rationale before we embark ourselves on to media-smitten experiments such as this which have no clear aim, and are very poorly backed. The world today is obviously more advanced than it used to be and it is foolish to be comparing life now (i.e using a plastic toothbrush) with life hundreds of years ago when circumstances and population were very different.

    Also, you refer to ingredients which surely must have been packaged using plastics. I find it near impossible to believe that bicarbonate of soda, salt, peppermint oil and glycerine were not packaged using some plastic, in a western country. It helps to be more fluent about where other things have come from in order to support your experiment; it is otherwise misleading and contradictory.

    The advantage for those making such 'experiments' is all the media attention it gives them.

  • Comment number 20.

    As I go through this blog and the comments there is a very common comment arising which rotates on the theme

    -This is a waste of time as it demonises plastic when it is not the bad guy, it is our throw away society with a large carbon footprint

    I agree with the statement but its not really the point of the exercise. Plastic is a strong indicator of how wasteful we have become in the Western world. It is now so cheap to produce that we make a lot of c**p from it that people buy, get bored of in a very short time and ends up in a landfill. It has also helped lower the cost of household items (I know there are lot of other factors involved) which people now throw away when broken as it is cheaper to buy a new one than repair the old.

    I agree plastic has its part to play in modern society and to help lower our carbon footprint. This blog has sparked many a worthy debate with a vast number of comments posted with each entry and I believe has helped to inform its readers with some worthy knowledge. If this blog encourages people to consider the entire lifecycle of the products they buy and where it ends up after they have used it then I think it is an exercise well worth it.

  • Comment number 21.


    Well said, Jim.

    I contacted Colgate, by email, asking about waste free packaging. Hopefully, they will consider the issue.
    Soap was another difficult area. Again, I and other like-minds contacted the main players. Now Dove, Pears and Cussons (Imperial Leather) offer card only packaging alternatives to Zero Waste Enthusiasts, and others. There are successes. Return To Sender is another.
    This is a worldwide movement of people concerned with the horrendous waste problem. There are other problems but this is a good place to start.

  • Comment number 22.

    kingFerry #19, experiments such as this are anything but a waste of time.

    The late Arthur C Clarke wrote, "The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible."

    I hope that will stand by itself without further explanation.

  • Comment number 23.

    Can I just ask, did you manage to find the ingredients for your own toothpaste in non-plastic containers? I have had trouble finding things like oils with out plastic lids, also, it may sound silly but salt!....always in a box (cardboard) but then in a plastic sealed bag, or in a cardboard tube with a plastic lid I did find this place were you could serve your self...but into a plastic bag!
    somewhere like Lush might have a toothpaste alternative, I know that they have solid shampoos, soaps, bath stuff etc, which you can buy by the block (and ask to have it in paper) so maybe they have a toothpaste alternative also.

  • Comment number 24.

    I checked in today (12-08-08) to see if this experiment was any more interesting.

    Nope. It's still deadly dull.

    You're afraid of losing your friends?

    You should be more worried about losing your readers.

    I for one won't be back.

  • Comment number 25.

    13 - idontmunhcbut -

    Can I just ask where your getting your information from and also say I hope it wasnt general education!
    You seem to me to be the misinformed party, clinging on to a single factor and not fully understanding it but still patting your self on the back for so being clever.

    Our carbon footprint is important yes, but in terms of production, distribution and waste a wooden tooth brush is far far better than a plastic one. I completely agree with you that the media in particular grabs a snippet of info and calls it science and then dismisses anything else, but you have fallen into this trap also. As a scientist I know how frustrating it is to try and explain a point in lay terms when the greater population has decided your wrong based on false or exagerated evidence. I'll put it simply, our carbon footprint is important, but is just a way of trying to get people to wise up to the situation of the ever increasing carbon emmissions, giving simple products "number of carbons" is rediculous and not helping the matter at all. The over all aim of any climate change, biodiversity or other "save the planet" science is to do just that, but what the general public dont understand is that these areas have to work together, all areas of science are interlinked. And so to your comment about the plastic toothbrush being better than the wooden because it is "less carbons" and that being the be all and end all...your wrong very wrong. While carbon emmissions is a major problem and needs to be fought against, landfil and waste is also very important and an unsung pressing issue. for example, landfil = land space = less for natural land = less biodiversity = also less space for crops = less food production...etc etc
    everyone goes on about recycling being important and how this will help your carbon footprint etc...when actually it is a huge energy consuming process, but we do it anyway for other reasons...i.e. landfils being very bad, and even the possibility of running out of certain resources....metals etc have limited deposits the same as oil....which leads us back to the need to recycle plastics.
    So overall I think you and this is by no means personal because you represent a greater proportion of the population that seriously needs educating in the need for all these different "save the planet" methods to be worked together, not one being more important than the other.

  • Comment number 26.

    There are many ways to reduce the need to brush your teeth. Flossing is REALLY useful (or toothpicks). One of the main causes of smelly breath is trapped food - especially meat. A quick floss/pick will remove the offending shred and reduce the chance for bacteria to flourish.

    Main thing is - whatever you do - do it shortly after eating. You're probably not drinking much pop to avoid the plastic bottles - go the extra step - NEVER drink pop. It's a complete waste of water and has acids that actively damage your teeth.

    Fruit juice can damage teeth too, but at least it has some nutrition in it too.

    I'm on a diet right now and my teeth never feel furry, that's caused by sugar.

    Floss or pick after meals.
    Reject all pop.
    Limit fruit juice to when you're eating.
    Rinse with water after every consumption.
    Cut out the sugar (great for figure and skin too).
    Limit coffee, tea, red wine (stains).

    That way, you can recue toothbrush and toothpaste useage.

    Zero waste doesn't mean zero consumption. The trick is to minimise purchase, maximise use and cut out 'dead' disposal. Always dispose in a way that leads to re-use or total breakdown.

  • Comment number 27.

    In my view plastic is undesirable because it is not a material that makes you love the object and want to preserve it. Like concrete, tarmac and nylon it is functional rather than beautiful like wood, slate and stone. Think of all the broken children's plastic toys that are thrown away, as opposed to the wooden and metal ones that are sought after at auctions.
    As far as toothbrushes go I haven't tried a wooden/pig one but instinctively it doesn't appeal and it would inevitably remain wet and unhygenic. Maybe it is one of those applications that plastic IS best for. I did try one that had replaceable plastic/nylon heads on a plastic handle, and that obviously reduces the waste. I think we should bear in mind that toothbrushes are very small by comparison with buckets, washing-up bowls, council wheely bins, recycling boxes and compost bins. Maybe small plastic items could be separated and melded together for disposal if they are not recyclable, so that they don't end up choking wildlife.

  • Comment number 28.


    Extremely good point and very well articulated. The entire life cycle of the product in question needs to be considered in terms of carbon.

    The problem is that this information is not readily available to members of the public by retailers/brands and that people end up making assumptions like "glass has to be better than plastic because I can recycle it"

    We have nutritional information on all food products as a standard - why not carbon labels?

  • Comment number 29.

    I think there are two separate issues regarding packaging here:

    The first is that a material, whether it be plastic or glass or green fur with spots on, may be selected after extensive study of the life cycle, supply chain and disposal routes to produce a piece of packaging. It will be of the optimum thickness and placed where most appropriate according to where research and experience has shown it to be of benefit. However, this optimal material will end up in people's homes and need to be disposed of, by whatever means, having fulfilled its function.

    The second is that some people prefer not to have to deal with this material, so would prefer heavier secondary (outer) packaging meaning no packaging to dispose of in the home. This means that potentially in the supply chain is higher levels of waste or greater overall weight of packaging (I'm talking secondary/outer packaging).

    This is where the assumptions come in regarding 'glass better than plastic because it can be recycled' and this may be a perfectly valid point in some cases. But plastic is better than glass because breakages don't result in sharp shards of glass, it's lighter, pliable and IS recyclable. It's the facilities that are sketchy at best.

    Instead of making packaging the scapegoat, I would encourage people to question their local authorities and government on why there is no national strategy on recycling facilities. Why I, in Milton Keynes, can recycle pretty much anything, including some plastics, but my parents, in Wales, can recycle newspaper, but not cardboard, which has a much higher virgin material content, therefore much more valuable in paper recycling.

    What I don't want to see is an abandonment of the fundamentals of packaging in favour of using only materials which have previously been abandoned because a lighter and more efficient alternative has been found.

  • Comment number 30.


    Fulfilling its function, ie now waste, is the current wisdom. I say adopt a lifecycle where there is no waste ie packaging is 100% reused/recycled.

    I do not use this type of packaging ie I shop local and only shop in superstores on my terms, ie no waste packaging.

    Plastic has its part to play but it must be sustainable.

  • Comment number 31.

    Chris and others in the media are keen to point out the impact of plastic on wildlife and the natural environment. One example being the plastic bag and sea creatures mistaking it for food.

    But the problem is not the plastic bag. The problem is that the last person using the bag didn't dispose of it properly and it became litter.

    There is a huge need for improvements in street cleaning, combined with education on litter. I live in a nice part of West London, with streets that are often covered in crisp packets, plastic bottles and cigarette butts.

  • Comment number 32.

    #30 johnhcrf

    Shopping locally and avoiding packaging is not something that the majority of people in the UK can even come close to achieving.

    And as jo_mojobanana pointed out, if a product appears on the shelf with no primary packaging, how much secondary packaging had to be used to ensure it reached the retailer in good condition?

    Asda tried to reduce primary packaging from the majority of their fresh fruit and veg but found that levels of food waste increased substantially. Plastic protects the food we want to buy.

  • Comment number 33.


    I do not use the plastic. However, since polythene is recyclable that can be used as sustainable packaging.
    Future developments, including HDPE use for ready meals, will change the situation. My view is to use ZeroWastePackaging in the meantime. Not everyone can manage this, as you say, but where they can shop local they should.
    Consumers have the power to encourage change.

  • Comment number 34.

    This is all very laudible, but the basis of your reporting is put onto the packaging of generalised items...and very little else.

    And besides, what have YOU personally done to re-use the plastic in your home rather than throw it in the bin?

    Have you even thought about it? What uses certain plastics *may* have? Even an old toothbrush has its place when its worn out along with the basket of cleaning materials under the sink. Plastic food containers are great for starting off seedlings AND are reusable, the same as the bottom half of a coke bottle.

    Even half a dozen widgets found in beer cans can be saved and bunged into the washing machine as wash balls saving on half of the ammount of powder used.

    If going for a month makes you feel good that you are doing your 'bit' for the environment then great. but when you sit down to watch your television or use your printer give a thought to the bigger issue.

    Purchasers of modern day appliances such as TV'S, laptops, printers and PC's need to heavily campaign the manufacturers to start building appliances which not only work well, but are not obsolete and need replacing long before their useful life is through.

  • Comment number 35.

    one of the best toothpastes to use which is enviromentaly friendly is one of the Lush toothpastes, and it comes in vanilla flavor, black colourt


  • Comment number 36.

    You are doing very well. Please don't let negative comments get to you. I, for one, applaud your effort to bring attention to the over-use of plastics. Awareness is the key to reducing waste. Plastic is a part of our lives but we can "reduce, reuse and recycle."

  • Comment number 37.


    You are spot on with your assessment. Chris's blog is a great forum for debate.
    How is your own Zero Waste challenge going, have you reduced your waste plastic?

  • Comment number 38.


    Yes I have!

    I have gotten so many good ideas here. I've been researching the Bokashi bin. I use an Envirocycle which is more limited in what waste we can compost. My plastic waste has always been minimal due to really good recycling here and my own efforts to reduce but I am learning new ways to be even better.

    I am trying to meet the challenge!

  • Comment number 39.


    I should add that I have animals who will eat some waste that I can't compost but it seems that the Bokashi bin would definitely be an improvement to my current compost bin. I have been learning so much here.

  • Comment number 40.


    The bokashi is great for bone, fat, meat, food bits and pieces etc. The juice from it which you should drain off every 2-3 days can be used for plant growth.
    Have you stopped using plastic packaging? That is the final step in bin waste reduction.

    Do you know of either Beth from Fake Plastic Fish or young Daniel Burd, who is trying to decompose plastic bags?

  • Comment number 41.

    I have mostly stopped all plastic packaging (cling film) because I either produce most of my own food, trade and/ or buy from local farmers. Most 'hard' plastics, I can recycle.

    I have heard of Beth from Fake Plastic Fish but do not know of your other reference. I can't begin to know how we could 'decompose' plastic bags unless they were made from vegetable materials. I worry about this type of plastic because I worry that it is using vegetables such as corn that could be used for food. There are so many hungry people in the world.

  • Comment number 42.

    #25: elvis_loves_pink

    You ask where I get my information....

    I actually work as 'Head of Packaging' for a very major organisation that is working very hard to reduce it's packaging consumption amongst many other sustainability initiatives that are off-subject to this debate. Believe me when I say I am very well briefed and abreast of all of the facts and various arguments within the wider sustainability debate.

    Your argument is clearly well researched and you seemingly speak from a great experience, however the fact remains that it is global warming and climate change that are the real issues facing the planet today albeit underpineed by many others. They are primarily driven by mans increasing release of GHG's into the atmosphere and it does not take a particularly well educated mind to figure that the solution has to be reducing GHG emmisions, carbon and methane being the primary culprits.

    Biodiversity, land for food crops and various other subjects, as you rightly point out all have a massive part to play in this sustainability debate however climate change remains the primary driver for change here. Focusing resource efficiency and energy consumption reductions through a consistent GHG based metric such as "carbon footprinting" will undoubtedly have the most significant impact in the fight against climate change in being a catalyst for informed specifier and consumer change.

    Clearly any "carbon footprinting" needs to be fully up and down stream and consider all life-cycle stages, the many different angles, inputs and factors if it is to have any meaning in informing and guiding material choice and lifestyle change. Any such piece of work should of course be a complete life-cycle of the product / material as you yourself quite rightly point out.

    A desire for zero waste is by no means 'knockable' and is in fact very commendable, however I am absolutely certain that many within this forum are pursuing such a 'utopian vision' in complete ignorance of and at the detriment to the wider, bigger issue that is net environmental impact of their material choices. Assuming wood is environmentally better just because it grows in the ground and we can recycle flies completely in the face of all research and study in this field, as is assuming because something is in a recyclable cardboard box, paper bag or glass jar it must be inherently environmantally better than plastic. In fact this mistaken and ignorant desire for pulp based packaging completely contradicts your own position on scarcity of land for food crops, as does the belief that plant based plastics such as PLA (which is manufactured from GM crops by the way) and biofuels etc must be environmentally better because they too are pucked from the earth. These 'sustainable icons' do apply pressure on land and tighten already extreme situations with scarcity of food crop land at a time when food shortages and economic pressure are making it increasingly (financially) difficult for families around the world to feed themselves nutritionally balanced foods.

    Carbon measurement reflects extraction, conversion, consumption, distribution as well as end of life disposal and converts all of these very difficult and complicated areas into a consistent metric or indicator that can be used to help support material choice and energy consumption decision making. Yes lots of other factors exist that need to be considered by the 'decidees' in such material choices but undoubtedly climate change and the efficient usage of resources need to be the over-riding factors for consideration.

    Very few people on here, with the exception of some that are clearly working within the same arena as myself are preapred to entertain the idea that plastic could actually be a carbon efficient, energy efficient, resource efficient and therefore a more sustainable alternative packaging material to glass, paper, card metals or wood. That 'head in the sand' approach to the debate that solely focuses ones efforts upon "zero waste" rather misses the whole purpose of modern-day material and lifestyle choices that aim to deliver a more sustainable future for everyone. Quite frankly if 'environmentally educated' people dont get it then what hope do we have the lesser-informed (environmentally speaking) general public have? Deliberately headline chasing govt policy and jouralism such as this particular one-sided piece as well as attention grabbing press campaigns such as "war on waste" and such initiatives that focus all efforts upon packaging and carrier bags only serve to fuel the irrational and ignorant public focus on a material that actually helps improve the situation.

    Take 'Food Waste' for example. Recent WRAP research has highlighted that 1/3 of the nations food is thrown away, estimating this releases more than 30,000,000 tonnes of 'carbon' (Co2 equivalent) into the atmosphere every year. In comparison packaging production, consumption, recycling and disposal releases just a fraction of that figure. Packaging helps to preserve foods through extending shelf-life through reducing damage, managing respiration of produce through modified atmosphere (MAP) and minimising waste in the food supply chain. We need to face the fact that we cannot feed the worlds poulation from local shops and farmers markets, with local produce and foods without packaging. It is completely unrealistic and therefore complicated and very efficient retail supply chains have been built to feed and supply that poulation that are fundamentally and inherently dependant upon packaging.

    Take developing countries such as India where more than half of all food is wasted and thrown away before it even reaches the shops due to product damage and spoiling. Compare this figure with that achieved in a sophisticated modern retail supply chain where waste levels of around 3% are the norm. To demonise plastics and packaging, yes 'demonise' is to miss the very crux of the argument and the issue. Undoubtedly we should do all we can to reduce our usage but at the same time our material choices should be based upon robust science and not misinformation, misconception, gut feel and the nice warm feeling it gives you to brush your teeth with a wooden stick and bicarbonate of soda.

    Zero Waste has it's place providing your choices en-route to achieving it take account of the overall effect upon global warming.

    PS: I do not need to be "educated" as you so nicely put it, by you or anyone else thanks.

  • Comment number 43.


    It is good to read about your improvement. Have you increased your bin waste reduction? (you mentioned 85% earlier)

    Regarding Daniel Burd. He used Pseudomonas and Sphingomonas bacteria in an experiment to test the decomposition of plastic bag strips. 43% reduction in volume was achieved in 3 months.
    If perfected, this would allow home treatment of remaining plastic waste. The remaining 1% of my waste would be removed.

  • Comment number 44.

    wow, am I happy not to have to sit next to some of you for this discussion! No wonder we are not known to have 'colgate' smiles.

    Chris however can opt for mint during this month for fresher breath, the ones that come in a tin "fisherman's mint". This will guarantee she will be able to enjoy pleasant talks with her colleagues. If you are lucky, there are some chewing gum (designer) that comes only in a tin, not packed with thin security plastic.

  • Comment number 45.


    The problem of feeding the poor should not be sidetracked into biofuel or any other area, as you rightly say.

    Further to the Burd story. I have been looking for a home landfill kit to end my landfill contribution. This may be the answer.

  • Comment number 46.

    I am a bit puzzeld as to why people would want to go back to the middle ages, essentially ignoring all the great advances, especially in health which plastics have made? I agree that there is a lot of unecessary waste and scketchy recycling facilities which are not up to par with our plastic waste. But regressing as is not going to solve the problem.

    We need to stop blaming things for our problems. The Zerowate enthusiasts blame plastic, the obese blame McDonald's, the vegans blame meat... Perhaps it is time we understand the entire life cycle of a product, its place in civilized society, economic and environmental impact, instead of trying to regress to the middle ages.

  • Comment number 47.


    You mention lifecycles. Let me describe the current situation:

    Waste is a constant by-product of current practice. From now until the end of time. Is this sustainable? No!

    A new cycle Waste production is minimal with 100% recycling/reuse of plastics, with minimal production which only tops up wear and tear. This sustainable cycle is the future.

    Think about this future and take steps to move nearer to this worthwhile end.

  • Comment number 48.

    #47: Yes indeed. I do support the cause, and the philosophy of a sustainable future. However, this ideology is loosing ground against the powerful well informed company lobbyist. It is spin from every angle, however if you catch people saying 'we brush our teeth too much anyway" In the case of the nappie post "I don't mind a little baby wee" or even the 'I prefer to have baby poo on my vinyl floors...' Or my personal favorite 'coorporations are evil'.

    A lot of people don't recycle or buy eco-friendly products because it is more expensive and a symbol of this 'higher than thou' green lifestyle. A lot of people don't earn a lot of money and cannot afford to buy eco-overpriced items e.g. eco detergents, biodegradable soaps, tampoons, compost boxes.... An alternative product needs to be also alternative in price, durability and quality. The aim is to have more recycling facilities, better regulations for waste disposal, alternative energy supplies...instead of preaching society to give up nice breath and hygiene.

    A note about hygiene: in the old days we had epidemics, skin rashes, bad breath and no public transportation.

  • Comment number 49.


    I am glad you see the benefit of this better system. There may be powerful agencies against but what can they do to prevent change? King Cnut saw the limit of his power, so should they.

    Some people are not recycling, as you rightly say. I say all faciliities should first be available throughout the country (kerbside food waste, plastic and other recyclables); Clear and unambiguous instructions for householders; Feedback to perfect the system. Incentives initially to encourage cooperation.

    There are other issues but this is one where consumers/householders can force the pace of change.

  • Comment number 50.

    42 - idontmunchbut -

    Thank you for your reply and it sounds as though you have thought about your answer well which is very much appriciated.

    I just want to say to start with that I in no way ment to direct anything personally at you but they way you speak in your other comments gave the impression that you had a very one track view point (i.e. climate change the be all and end all) and the problem I had with that is the fact that you make a very educated argument that portrays your views very well, however I think that (as you agreed) there are further important issues that can be tackled too, such as the problem of waste. When some one is (sounding as though they are) disregarding these problems in place of just one factor, it is quite disheartening as I previously mentioned people generally like to grab hold of a snippet of info and then ignore anything else even with evidence.

    I can now see (as you have explained your points more clearly) that we are both on the same lines really i.e. climate change being very important but other problems also existing that can be tackled such as landfil and waste. I however was a little confused at some of your other posts as it sounds as though you are dismissing any efforts for controlling waste (including plastic) as worthless and futile, while I on the other hand believe that, obviously there are other issues that need our efforts, but that anything put into trying to do something for the planet is a good thing and should be encouraged, including this little project.

    I'd also like to say that the problem with climate change is that it cant be stopped and the warming of the earth is a natral process that has been whitnessed many times in the history of the earth (as plenty evidence shows) and in fact we are relatively cold when compared to historical temperatures (i.e. we are still actually in an iceage as we have ice caps!). The problem is that the rise in temperatures is much faster than seen, and is sped up by our activities, THIS IS WHAT WE NEED TO FOCUS ON not halting climate change as this cant be done in human life times. (I understand that this is probably known by you, but it is common misconception that needs to be righted).

    It is also a misconception (that leads people to want to dismiss everything scientists say), that we are saying that human activity "caused" climate science with any creditable evidence has ever said this, what is actually argued is that we are speeding it up, a lot quicker than anything can cope with, and due to our other activities, such as land use, pollution, habitat destruction etc. things that usually would have changed its behaviour to survive (e.g. evolving) cant do that. A great example is the polar bear, ice caps melting means it has to come on to land more to hunt/forage etc which would probably work and it would survive if it were not for humans engrossing on the land it would naturally use, and killing it, or in some better cases removing it alive, thus leaving it and so many other examples with no where to go. Hence why I feel it is also important to control the amount of land we use unecessarily.

    Again non of this is directed at you personally (idontmuchbut) as from your previous explanation I understand that you probably know all this anyway! but in general to those who may have these misconceptions.

  • Comment number 51.

    re #42 I'm with you all the way. I think very few people understand the utter complexity of a modern Western lifestyle and the interconnected-ness of everything.

    It's laudable to TRY. And I won't see anyone poo-pooed for making the effort.

    But some things to remember:

    1 You need to be pretty rich in global terms to live in the way we're talking about in these fora

    2 It's hard - maybe impossible - to know what knock on effects there are for each of the proposals

    3 Once we've helped everyone achieve regular food, clean water and basic medicine there are billions of people going to want the same privileges we've has in the Developed World for so long. Who shall deny them? Why should they be denied?

    4 Even when the 3 core goals aren't reached people want the goodies we've been so lucky to enjoy. I offer you China and India and Brazil as examples.

    5 Blogs like this aren't perfect. Maybe even not very good in terms of achievable results. Possibly even plain wrong - as in the desire to eliminate plastic - but they serve as a valuable tool for spreading the debate and improving overall knowledge and so I applaud this and many others.

    Global co-operation is incredibly difficult to achieve - myself I believe it to be impossible - but until almost everyone in a position to help is thinking 'bout it we can't even try.

    Sorry...getting off the point.

    This is a global, holistic problem, soluble only globally. And it is subject to Chaos - in particular, sensitive dependence on initial conditions that we just not be able to control any longer.


  • Comment number 52.

    My bin bag only has to be put out every 2-3 weeks, (when its full). Having a garden, I save a fortune by properly using the composter. A bit of a black art getting the mix correct, many false starts (too much grass cuttings = slimy mulch), I seem to have the balance correct now.

    Since Tesco (shhh they who must not be mentioned), has introduced a mixed plastic recycle bin(s), all of my packaging goes in there, cardboard is composted, and I notice that many large yoghurts come in flimsy recyclable plastic inner pot, and a thick cardboard outer support packaging. some useful dishes I reuse to grow grass seed in (don't laugh I make my own plugs that way, 'hoik' out a weed, and put in a grass plug easy.

  • Comment number 53.

    I don't think anyone wants to return to the Middle Ages, but we do need to be aware that not all our technological advances are actually beneficial to those using them, in human health terms, as well as in global planetary health terms. Food technology and modern medicines being major culprits here (alongside a lot of 'received wisdom' type training of medical professionals, that's completely OT for this blog though!)

    This blog is obviously focussed on waste, how to avoid it, how to make best use of whatever waste is created. Along the way there are other issues that should be taken into consideration, including considering how it's become necessary for packaging to be required to avoid food waste (and really what's made food waste such a bad thing when it can be composted/digested/used as mulch or fed to pets and livestock.)

    I've discovered something interesting this past week. I bought a naked cucumber and expected it to go manky pretty quickly, having read this blog and taken in (through glancing through the really long posts) the message that plastic wrapping was necessary to maintain freshness, and having the experience of the half-wrapped cuke, it does go peculiar at the uncovered end. But this cuke has been fine, used a little each day and kept in the (yes plastic) fruit section of my fridge. It's left me wondering how much of the food waste research is funded by packaging manufacturers and/or promoters and how much filters into public consciousness as received wisdom.

  • Comment number 54.

    I recommend Chris and all her journalist colleagues, the zero waste but never mind how much we consume brigade, the save the world by not using a plastic bag/toothbrush delegation and the wood, paper, biodegradable good, plastic bad commission, read idontmuch 42.
    It is clearly written by someone who understands the issues and has considering them from more than one side.

    Only similarly cogent contributions in future please.

  • Comment number 55.


    I do not use your packaging!

    The future will be sustainable despite the efforts of plastic packaging workers like yourself.

    I say to you accept the future, adjust your practices and we all can head in the right direction.

  • Comment number 56.

    You might think about about having a chat with the 'bonfire of the brands' author. He did many of the things your having issues with he made toothpaste.

  • Comment number 57.

    Regarding alternatives for toothpaste, tried crush coal. I used that once or twice a month since it is much more effective that toothpaste. For your breath, try pineapple though I have no idea how it is sold overseas (I'm in Mauritius).

  • Comment number 58.


    Pineapple juice is acidic whereas alkaline preparations are better for the mouth. What is required is a packaging alternative where there is Zero landfill impact. This could be glass, metal or recyclable plastic.

    The toothpaste industry should be prepared to offer consumers this type of alternative. There may be a high price initially but as more and more consumers opted for the sustainable choice, the price would inevitably fall. Who knows the waste tube might disappear altogether.

  • Comment number 59.


    That was very revealing about the cucumber. It does not need plastic wrapping. Just another piece of plastic packaging propaganda for the gullible.

    I have not used any plastic wrapping in the last 20 weeks. None of my fruit/veg has gone off in the fridge or pantry, in the height of summer.

    Would any of the plastic packaging fraternity care to comment on this?

  • Comment number 60.

    the cucumber report was written by the Cucumber Growers Association - check it out on-line. Certainly not written by either the retail or packaging sectors.

    if you actually bothered to listen [read] you would see that the point being made is that the packaging biggest job is getting it through the extended supply chain and onto shelf. once their the majority of work has been done in minimising damage and waste.

    The fact that you then take it home unpackaged and it survives in your fridge is hardly surprising. Try getting that naked mango that you want to eat in November half way around the world in thousands (qty) without the packaging you choose to leave behind. This is what the packaging does.

  • Comment number 61.

    50, 51, 54

    Great to see consensus agreement on the fundamentals and also to see good old common sense prevail. Let the proper debate based upon facts not gut feel begin.

    I am not not sure 'the enthusiasts' like johnhcrf are prepared to listen. He still expects a glass jar of toothpaste to dip his wooden toothbrush in.

    "there's none so deaf as those that don't want to hear"




    Sorry, that was just me banging my head on the desk!

  • Comment number 62.


    The detail about the cucumber was repeated by yourself or a like-mind. It is therefore fair game for sceptics like me.

  • Comment number 63.

    I ask the question again:
    Why has none of my fruit/veg gone-off in fridge or pantry, in the height of summer and with no plastic cover?

  • Comment number 64.

    Daniel Burd was using Pseudomonas and Sphingomonas bacteria to break down plastic bag pieces. This could be the basis for a home landfill kit which would allow my remaining plastic waste to be decomposed.
    Zero landfill would be reached.


    Have you reached more than 85% in your bin waste reduction?

  • Comment number 65.


    I don't like mango ;-)

  • Comment number 66.


    Wll said. That could be a cue for a song:

    How about :

    Where's ma plastic gone

  • Comment number 67.

    This topic looking into sustainable options to replace current waste plastic items is an excellent way to find alternatives.

    So far we have the wooden tooth brush, all steel razor, a doubtful toothpaste alternative (that could change), paper packs, card/tinfoil wrapped chocolate, unpackaged fruit/veg and other items.

    I am also looking for natural sponges, non-plastic commodity bags and many other examples to avoid bin waste.

    I plan to use 1 binbag in 4-5 years to show that waste can be reduced to a sustainable amount. Others are taking up the challenge. Why not try it yourself ( I include Plastic Packaging Personnel in this)?

  • Comment number 68.

    An easy solution to bad breath is to dip the the edge bristles of your toothbrush in a little bicarbonate of soda and lightly brush your teeth and tongue (after toothpaste or, in this case, homemade dentifrice) before thoroughly rinsing. It keeps your breath fresh (and lasts much longer than the mint 'freshness' of mouthwash, too, though that's still useful in it's own right).

  • Comment number 69.

    I use baking soda to brush my teeth, because of food intolerances I can't use any regular toothpaste. You get used to it. I get fluoridated baking soda from a compounding pharmacy.

  • Comment number 70.

    Without wanting to cause an argument, some people commenting on this blog entry are saying that it's pointless as it wont make any difference to our Carbon Footprint...I don't think Chris' experiment is trying to do this.
    The challenge of reducing our Carbon Footprint is far bigger than changing to using a wooden toothbrush!
    I believe Chris' experiment is trying to draw attention to the amount of unnecessary plastic that is around at the moment and by reducing that could maybe start to have a small effect on the litter/landfill/etc. issue.
    Personally, Chris, I think you're doing a great job! It's a shame some people don't see it for what it is. :)


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