Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I'm a Pink Toothbrush, You're a Blue Toothbrush

Is there such a thing as a plastic-free toothbrush?
Help! I need a new toothbrush! Desperately. But how on earth am I going to find one that's not plastic? I really don’t fancy having to use a twig to clean my teeth for evermore.

My trusty internet asearch engine is the only way forwatrd, and so off to Google I go. I type in ‘non plastic toothbrush’ expecting a total of zero results. But, aha! I am not the only plastic freak out here…

A little toothbrush history
According to The Daily Green: The Consumer’s Guide to the Green Revolution, “The toothbrush as we know it was invented in the 15th century in China and was originally concocted of boar's hair or horsehair and bamboo or bone…

“If you consider that the average human life expectancy today is about 78 years and then multiply that by the times one might replace a toothbrush (every 4 months or so) you get a grand total of 312 toothbrushes used and then discarded by any given individual during his or her time on the planet.”

That doesn’t sound horrendous on its own, but when you consider how many people there are on the planet, well, it really starts to add up.

So what alternatives are actually out there?

With a little perseverance, I find there’s quite a selection of biodegradable and/or natural toothbrushes to choose from: Peelu, Acca Kappa, Swissco. None of them are quite perfect, but here are my top finds:

1. Radius: made from wood or flax, or even dollar bills, with changeable heads. But the heads and bristles are plastic and nylon. Though this is better than nothing because at least I’d only be throwing away half a toothbrush each time, rather than a whole one.

2. Preserve: made from recycled plastic. They come in a reusable travel case instead of regular packaging, plus you can send them back to the manufacturer afterwards to be recycled again, into park benches and the like. This is brilliant, though I do wonder whether constant recycling is really solving the problem. But it’s a good start and it offers a lot more than your regular toothbrush. And apparently I can pop down to my local Sainsbury’s to get one; handy.

3. Wooden toothbrush: with natural bristles from "The head of each toothbrush is covered with a small piece of biodegradable plastic for hygiene reasons and secured with a paper/metal clip that is 100% recyclable," the site tells me. This seems to tick all my boxes - except they’re a whopping £9 each.

The Natural Toothbrush

Finally: jackpot! The Natural Toothbrush is literally what it says: made from the root of the Araak tree. And it resembles… well, a twig. As far as I can tell from the website, you peel off the bark and chew the ‘bristles’ inside. You don’t even need toothpaste because the fibres contain all sorts of natural nutrients. The tree it comes from is widespread in the Middle East which, theoreticall at leasty, means that taking these twigs shouldn’t cause too much undue harm.

Bron walks in while I’m looking at the website. ‘How much is it?’ he asks.


‘Cool. Get one. And get one for me, too.’

Wow, I’m gobsmacked. This’ll be one of my easiest Bron conversions yet, and tough to ignore.

‘It’ll still come in a plastic pouch, though.’ I say.

‘Of course they will. They’ve got to, for hygiene,’ he reminds me.

I know he’s right, it’s just a bit annoying. But I let impulse take hold, and click the magic button on the computer, ordering one for each of us. So much for saying I'm not prepared to clean my teeth with a twig.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bron's Breakfast

In the three plus years that Bron and I have been together, I’ve never known him to have more than a banana for his breakfast before going to work in the morning. Actually, neither of us have ever really bothered with breakfast, as that little bit of extra sleep has always won out over food. But suddenly, since being made redundant in August, he’s discovered the power of breakfasting.

It sounds like a good thing – and it is a good thing, I suppose. That mysterious ‘they’ always say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all. Except that Bron’s new breakfast fetish means he - or we - have started buying three key ingredients we never really bought before: milk (plastic bottle), Kellogg’s Special K cereal (cardboard box, but plastic bag inside), and walnuts (plastic bag). Not exactly reducing our plastic intake.

How did this happen? I can’t exactly stop him, but I must admit I feel somewhat annoyed about it.

And then I find myself pouring out a bowl of cereal when I get home from work, ‘Just to tide me over until tea is ready.’ Damn! So now I’m helping him get through this plastic badness even quicker. Besides which, I’ve been reading Felicity Lawrence’s book ‘Eat Your Heart Out’ which has some very bad things indeed to say about cereals. I feel so wrong on so many counts, but temptation is such a hard thing to conquer.

I must try harder to convince Bron of his evil plastic and breakfasting ways, except my track record on this count is rather slim to date as he seems to have developed immunity to my charms. I guess he knows me too well and can see what’s coming… I’ll have to think up some new tactics.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Pen and Ink

‘What’s up with your hands?’ Bron asks as he comes in the door. I look down, wondering what he means, when I remember: ah, yes, my fingertips are kinda blue right now…

Okay, so I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart. While I may be computer friendly and blog happy, I still like to use a more traditional writing method on occasion. I have my writing routine, of course: a propeller pencil for rough stuff; a black gel ink pen for the neat. But the other day I suddenly found I’d run out of leads for the pencil, and all of my pens had dried up and so into the bin they had to go.

Most pens these days pretty much represent the epitome of our throwaway culture: use them once and then they’re done. Plus all these throwaway pens are made of plastic, of course. So when my last pen ran out I thought, easy, I’ll dig out my old fountain pen. It wasn’t far either, just sitting in my pencil case, waiting to be rediscovered. But, alas, my fountain pen uses cartridges. Plastic cartridges. Are these any better than buying a new pen every couple of months I wondered? It’s probably 50:50. At least they’re smaller, but maybe this means I’ll go through them quicker. And besides plastic is plastic at the end of the day, isn’t it?

How am I going to get around this one, I wondered. I wasn’t quite prepared to resort to using a feather quill. In the end, I took myself off to WHSmith to see whether or not you can still buy traditional, refillable fountain pens with little glass pots of ink. Well, you can, sort of. Instead of having to buy a whole new pen, I came out with a ‘cartridge converter.’ It fits in my Parker pen just like a cartridge does, except it’s got a little mechanism built into it that enables me to refill it every time it’s empty. It’s made of plastic, of course, but at least it’s going to be staying in my pen for the foreseeable future.

As for my propeller pencil, new leads come in little plastic tubes, packaged on cardboard, but with a plastic bubble over the top. I can’t do it, can’t buy this, it’s silly when there are plenty of perfectly good wooden pencils in the world. I go home and take a peek in my pencil case: yes, there’s one already in there. But wait: shock! Horror! It’s made of plastic! How weird.

On closer inspection, it turns out that this pencil – a left over stocking filler from last Christmas - is made of recycled plastic. So that’s where all those plastic bottles go. I wonder how many bottles it takes to make one pencil? It looks like it needs a good sharpen, though, and so it’s back to the shops for me. I’ll just get a nice little silver sharpener, I think. Of course, it’s not that simple. WHSmiths has loose plastic sharpeners, or packaged metal ones. Why aren’t the metal ones loose? They’re no more in need of protection than plastic ones – less if anything, seeing as they’re considerably less brittle. Eventually I choose the metal one that comes with slightly less packaging, even though it’s a little more expensive.

My cartridge converter came in plastic, too, as did the bottle of ink. The pot of ink is in a glass bottle – great – but the sheer amount of plastic wrapped around it gave me a bit of a scare. In the end I bought it, figuring the pot would last me a while, at least, and in the meantime I can try sourcing pots without the packaging. When I got home, I opened it up with glee, ready to fill up the special cartridge – and forgot about how messy ink is and how easily it spreads itself around on desks and over fingers. Well, at least I haven’t knocked the bottle flying. Yet.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


Our friend, M, was on the phone in tears the other night. She is genuinely one of the unluckiest people I have ever met. To cut a long story short, she was suddenly homeless. Panic had set in: she’d have to sell her new business and go back north to live with her mum.

‘Don’t do that!’ we told her. ‘Come and stay with us for a couple of weeks until you can get things sorted out.’

And so that’s how we came to have her and her three year old little boy, K, staying with us. A bit of a shock to the system, and in more ways than one. For starters, K is 25% cute, 75% whirlwind. But the other side of the story is that M, like most of our friends, has no idea of my plastic obsession.

I admit it right now, it’s a bit mean of me, and if she ever reads this blog I hope she’ll forgive me, but when she went out the other day, I made a little list of all the stuff that’s appeared in our kitchen and bathroom that I no longer buy. Actually, it was quite a long list. Which made me feel really good about myself. Maybe I’m doing better with this no plastic deal than I thought I was.

I won’t list everything I found - that would be far from fair to M. But in the meantime, I’m planning on making the most of consuming all these hitherto forbidden foods that have appeared in their plastic trays and wrappings in my little kitchen: strawberries, grapes, croissants, scotch pancakes, and meringues. Mmmm.