Just like many of our essential products, toothbrushes unfortunately leave their mark on the planet in an ironically dirty way. Due to the non-recyclable nature of toothbrushes, 1 billion toothbrushes are thrown away in the U.S. each year. That's enough toothbrushes to wrap around the Earth 4 times. Most Americans will replace 300 toothbrushes in their lifetime, a statistic Quip is trying to curb. The Quip metal electric toothbrush costs 40 dollars, with subscription packages containing brush replacements starting at 5 dollars every 3 months. While Quip’s toothbrushes are a step above conventional plastic toothbrushes, the company still has a long way to go in its sustainability efforts. The toothbrushes’ bristles are made of nylon, a non-recyclable micro plastic responsible for the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. One suggestion for Quip would be to look into econyl, a recycled nylon textile made from used fishing lines and other post-consumer waste that have been collected from the oceans. Additionally, Quip offers zero transparency regarding its manufacturing or material sourcing. I am left disappointed with yet another company that doesn’t understand the interconnectedness of sustainability and transparency.
The body of the Quip electric toothbrush is made with aluminum and the replaceable brush heads are made with round-tipped nylon bristles. While Quip does not disclose what material encases the nylon bristles, it states that accompanying materials are free from latex, silicone, BPA, and phthalates. For a product as simple as a toothbrush, it seems lazy to fit all other materials under one “accompanying materials” umbrella, especially when the brush doesn’t have a formal ingredients list. Regarding the toothbrush’s body, aluminum is hidden in an ore called bauxite, which is collected from the ground in an open-pit mining operation. In order to separate aluminum for bauxite, chemical processes weed out other compounds like silica and iron dioxides. From there, raw aluminum must undergo a number of energy and water-intensive processes to make the final product. Clear-cutting trees and grasslands for open-pit mining operations also contribute to biodiversity loss, habitat loss, carbon emissions, and erosion. However, aluminum is one of the most recycled and most recyclable materials on the market with nearly 75% of all aluminum produced in the U.S. still in use today. Nylon— what’s used to make the bristles— doesn’t have the happy ending that aluminum does. Nylon is a type of plastic synthetic fiber derived from crude oil and is unfortunately not biodegradable or recyclable in any form. Additionally, manufacturing nylon creates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. On the bright side, Quip has made significant strides to reduce the environmental impact of its shipping materials with 100% recyclable packaging. Additionally, by only throwing away the head of a Quip toothbrush every three months, the company is reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills.
While my Voiz career has consisted of a whopping 3 reviews, I can confidently say that Quip was the hardest company to squeeze out even the smallest bit of information regarding its supply chain or manufacturing processes. Where are Quip toothbrushes made? Beats me. Where does Quip source its materials? No clue. What energy sources do its manufacturers rely on? Couldn’t tell ya. I embarked on a wild goose chase and returned without even a feather to commemorate my journey. I eventually resorted to Quip’s customer service bot and asked where its toothbrushes are made. What did the bot respond, you ask? “We’re always looking to reduce our industry’s environmental impact.” The bot even had the audacity to put the recycling emoji at the end of its laughable response. Listen Quip, unless your manufacturers are running on 100% coal and your delivery fleet is composed of Hummer trucks, keeping your supply chain in the shadows is a far worse idea than being transparent about your product’s life cycle, even if it's not the most sustainable.
Quip was founded by Simon Enever and Bill May, two industrial designers frustrated by the lack of innovation in the toothbrush industry. Recounting a 2012 dentist check-up Enever recalls, “I expected a 10 minute “UK” check up, only to be there 45! (The cliche is true!) It turned out I brushed too hard and was damaging my gums, a very common problem. My dentist proceeded to rant about how these huge, habitual problems (not brushing well, not twice a day, and not replacing worn heads) were being ignored by brands in favor of selling expensive gimmicks.” Thus, Quip’s mission formed: “to create honest, accessible, and simple oral care products that helped focus on the habits that really matter.” While sustainability is not a core pillar of Quip’s mission, the company encourages sustainable practices through their supplementary products and blog posts. In 2020, Quip released its solar battery charger with built-in tilt to maximize sun exposure. Trickle-charging builds a charge in the battery over a three month period so your battery will be ready to go in time for your brush head refill. Quip also provides a sense of accountability for past unsustainable practices, exemplified in its blog post, “6 Ways To Reuse Your Brush Head Refill Packaging.” I also admired that Quip gave credit to a past intern and a Quip user (linking the user’s instagram post) for two of the tips featured in the blog. The company also acknowledges its lack of diversity, reporting that 67% percent of employees are white and 6 out of 8 senior leadership team members are white males. Quip’s 2020 Diversity, Equity and Inclusion commitment states a number of initiatives to increase representation of black, latinx, and woman employees/leadership figures and pledges to hold itself accountable by releasing quarterly internal updates and public annual updates. However, only time will tell if Quip is successful in its DEI initiatives.