The unsustainability of disposable toothbrushes has become more prominent in recent years, with around one billion toothbrushes being thrown away each year in the US alone! Whilst many would assume that electric toothbrushes are more sustainable since they are built to last longer, this is not always the case when taking into account the range of factors that make a sustainable product, including the energy-intensive manufacturing practices, the power source, the materials used and the recycling potential! The Foreo ISSA electric toothbrush claims to offer a sustainable alternative which is not only clinically proven to improve your overall oral hygiene, but is also extremely energy-efficient since you only have to charge it once a year! They argue that they prioritise the environment and consumer interest over profits by creating long-lasting products in order to reduce the high consumption rates of electrical equipment. However, as you will see, not everything is as sustainable as they make out, so maybe it’s better to stick to the traditional manual toothbrush – or a bamboo toothbrush if you’re looking for the most sustainable option!
Foreo launched their most recent motto of ‘make products to last, not break fast’, aiming to reduce the amount of waste in the industry by increasing their toothbrush’s lifespan. Although they do help to reduce the amount of disposable toothbrushes going to the landfill each year, this does not make the electric kind entirely sustainable. This is partly due to the batteries it requires. The Foreo ISSA toothbrush boasts that it only needs charging once a year, helping to reduce energy consumption. However, it fails to mention that it uses AAA batteries which must be replaced whenever they run out. I could write a whole review on the unsustainability of batteries alone but briefly; the main problem is the toxic chemicals that are released into the atmosphere when they are disposed of – this is why it’s extremely important to take your used batteries to a recycling point!
The material used for the toothbrush itself is silicone which is less harmful than plastic but is still not the most environmentally friendly material out there! There are some benefits to silicone – it is more durable, it contains less harmful chemicals that linger in plastics and it doesn’t break down into the micro-plastics that are ruining our oceans! The silicone nubs and outer shell are recyclable, but this means that you would have to deconstruct the toothbrush and dispose of the individual parts separately. Foreo does offer a 10-year quality guarantee on the device which helps to reduce the amount of waste – and from personal experience they do last much longer than this!
Ultimately, the swap to silicone offers a reasonably sustainable alternative to plastic toothbrushes. However, the main issue surrounds the fact that it is electric. I would suggest opting for a bamboo, manual brush – they have lots of properties that are great for mouths, are 100% compostable and do not have the associated negative impacts of electric toothbrushes!
It was difficult to find information on the specific manufacturing process of the Foreo ISSA toothbrush, which in itself raises questions about its sustainability. I did find that although Foreo designs its products in Sweden, they have production facilities across the world in the US, Europe and Asia meaning that the transportation of stock will generate a sizeable carbon footprint. The production of electric toothbrushes more generally is fully automated, meaning that it is likely to be energy-intensive. Also, the various materials that are used in the process are often imported from around the world, further adding to the carbon footprint of the product. Having said that, the use of silicone over plastic helps to reduce the amount of fossil fuels (and the associated pollution) used in the process since it is petroleum free. However, since many of the specific details for Foreo’s toothbrush are not clear, it is difficult to make an informed judgement.
A recent study has shown that for every electric toothbrush we buy and use, it takes 10 hours of life off the people involved in the production process – which is 5 times higher than a normal plastic brush! This was part of a series of Life Cycle Assessments in which electric toothbrushes performed the worst in the majority of categories in comparison to plastic and bamboo manual toothbrushes! Foreo shows little transparency regarding workplace conditions and the manufacturing process, only noting that the products are made in facilities across the US, Europe and Asia. This makes us question what really goes on at these facilities and whether their workers are exploited like the study on electric toothbrushes suggests.
The company Foreo as a whole claim to be committed to being environmentally friendly. By recognising the sheer amount of waste from plastic toothbrushes, they are determined to offer an eco-friendly solution by creating products that are made to last. They have also partnered with various environmental charities, such as SEA LIFE Trust, dedicating 100% of the net proceeds from certain campaigns to these partners. However, could this be just another case of greenwashing? The studies on manufacturing processes of electric toothbrushes in general, and the little information Foreo offers, certainly makes me question these claims…