Monday, November 25, 2013

Recycling Mystery: Toothbrushes & Toothpaste Tubes

Recycling Mystery from Mary Mazzoni 08/30/12

Oral care products, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste tubes, can seem nearly impossible to recycle. After all, how would a recycler remove all of that extra toothpaste from the tube or dissasemble a toothbrush for recycling? Let’s take a closer look at this recycling mystery to get the low-down on how to keep our pearly whites healthy without contributing to landfill waste.
How are oral care products recycled?
Oral care products and packaging vary greatly by material and can include different numbered plastics, along with aluminum, steel and nylon. In most cases, each of these components must be processed separately – meaning a tricky job for recyclers.
“Toothbrushes are one of the most complicated items that we collect for recycling across the board, simply because they’re made up of three different components,” said Stacey Krauss, U.S. public relations manager for Terracycle, which accepts toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, mouthwash containers and dental floss packaging through the mail-back Oral Care Brigade.
“There’s the nylon bristles, there’s a metal staple that holds the bristles in place, and then there’s the plastic handle. So, all three of those materials need to be separated before they can be processed,” she explained.
After toothbrush components are separated, metals are processed through standard recycling, while nylon and plastics are shredded, cleaned and pelletized for use in Terracycle products – including picnic tables, benches, playground equipment, bike racks and garden tools, Krauss said.
The sticky residue inevitably left inside toothpaste tubes makes these picks seem like another head-scratcher, but they’re actually much easier to recycle than you’d think, Terracycle’s lead scientist, Ernie Simpson, told Earth911.
“For bottles, toothpaste tubes or anything like that, one of the tricks for getting residuals out of these containers is to shred the material,” Simpson said. “Once the materials are shredded, the surface area that has the residuals is exposed.”
After toothpaste tubes are shredded, they pass through a washing cycle – where the pieces are cleaned with water or a simple biocide, a solution that dissolves bio-based materials. From there, shredded tubes are dried and enter a pelletizing step, where recycled materials are converted into pellets for use in new products.
Similar shredding and pelletizing processes are used for salvaging mouthwash containers and dental floss packaging for recycling, Simpson said.
Can I recycle oral care products locally?
Through the Terracycle Oral Care Brigade, consumers can fill a box with toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes and other bathroom leftovers and mail it back to Terracycle for recycling. For each item mailed back, you’ll receive two Terracycle points – which can be redeemed for cash donations to the school or charity of your choice.