How much plastic is in the ocean?
There are between 5 and 50 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean. It's hard to tell because large pieces are always breaking down into smaller pieces, plus the ocean is full of trillions of microfibres from synthetic clothes, and tiny particles of plasticised rubber worn off of car tyres (which wash from roads into drains into creeks into waterways, into the ocean). 70% of our debris sinks into the ocean's ecosystem, 15% floats, and 15% lands on our beaches.
The generally agreed estimate is that there are 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans today, with 8 million more tonnes entering every year.
Every minute, of every day, the equivalent of another garbage truck full of plastic goes into the ocean. I believe only kids will actually do anything about this. We have to be ‘Generation Change’.
Are beach clean-ups good?
Participating in beach and waterway clean-ups is a FANTASTIC thing to do, joining with other like-minded people and taking direct action to clean up plastic pollution in the environment.
It's not a whole solution though. I've cleaned the same beach every year for ten years - it keeps coming back! If we don't stop using throw-away plastics, they'll keep ending up in the ocean, and keep washing up on our beaches, FOREVER!
Also, beach cleanups get the plastic on the surface, but did you know that Marine Biologist Jennifer Lavers' study in the Cocos Islands found that there's 26 times more plastic UNDER the sand than on top of it!
So here's the thing, if your bath was overflowing, what would you do first? Reach for a mop, or turn off the tap? The problem of ocean plastics is so critical that we have to do both at once, but we can't keep mopping up while the taps running at full flow! We need to 'turn off the plastic tap'. We need to use less plastic. Everyone. Every day. Starting now.
And if you can, participate in local beach and waterway cleanups - you'll be horrified by what you see, but also empowered and inspired by working on the problem with other like-minded people.
Isn't most plastic recycled now?
No. Just because plastic items are labelled 'recyclable', doesn't mean they actually get recycled. More often, they're buried, burnt, stored, or exported to poor Asian countries where it often ends up in rivers, then into the ocean. It's estimated that less than 3% of all the plastic ever made has ever been recycled.
A recent 60 minutes investigation has revealed that the plastic industry promotes recycling as a deliberate strategy to a)make consumers responsible for managing the waste stream that the manufacturers create, and b)prevent activists and governments from successfully banning unnecessary plastic items.
So yes, recycle, but first REDUCE, then RE-USE, THEN recycle.
How does plastic get into the ocean?
That plastic toothbrush you're using will be around for a thousand years after you’re gone. Will it end up in the ocean? You can’t know. Plastic floats out of land fill in flood events and that’s how they get there. Or from poor countries where they just throw their trash in waterways to get rid of it, or don't have the funds and infrastructure to manage their waste dumps properly. (We export our plastic recycling to countries like this - a big reason that recycling is a con job promoted by the plastic industry to prevent any reduction in the use of plastic. See 'Isn't most plastic recycled now?'
Can we clean the plastic out of the ocean?
It's very difficult, and very expensive. Ask Boyan Slat, the founder of Ocean Cleanup. He started when he was just 18 years old with a simple passive design to remove plastics from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (see his famous TED talk here) With hundreds of millions of dollars in funding, he's making good progress, but it's an enormous challenge, not least because
the pieces of plastic in the ocean are breaking down in UV light into smaller and smaller pieces, andAustralia’s science agency, the CSIRO, has found that the volume of microplastics on the sea floor is more than double the plastic pollution on the surface.
The solution? REDUCE our daily use of throw-away plastics, to 'turn off the plastic tap' so we can get serious about 'mopping' it up.
How does ocean plastic kill marine life?
Ocean plastics kill a staggering number of marine animals every year:
1 million seabirds die every year from eating plastic. It not only blocks up their guts and weighs them down, it also releases toxins.100,000 marine animals die every year from eating and getting entangled in plastic. This includes turtles, seals, whales, dolphins, fish, sharks and more.99% of seabirds and 100% of turtles studied have it in their guts. And when they die, the plastic is released back into the environment to kill again.
Microplastics kill marine life. NANO plastics (think plastic powder...they all end up that small eventually) are eaten by plankton. Microplastics and nanoplastics are known to accumulate other toxins from the ocean (PCB’s, dioxins, etc) so they not only kill marine life by blocking their guts, it’s also a chemical poisoning. And did you know that we humans are estimated to eat about 5g (a credit card) of plastic every month!!?? Tiny particles in all sorts of foods, but especially seafood. It’s toxic.
How does ocean plastic affect climate change?
Plastic pollution is a bigger problem than most people realise. It’s bad enough that it kills marine life and litters our beaches. But check this out…as plastic breaks down in the environment, it releases methane and other greenhouse gasses. (It’s made from oil). It’s estimated that the greenhouse gas emissions from plastic breaking down in the environment is currently equivalent to about 200 coal fired power stations. And growing.
Now here’s the really big problem… Nanoplastics are toxic to plankton. Plankton are the basis of the entire oceanic food chain. Plankton are also responsible for storing carbon at the bottom of the ocean - it’s our biggest carbon sink to remove excess CO2 from the atmosphere. And it could be impeded by plastic. So plastic releases extra greenhouse gasses, and at the same time reduces the effectiveness of our biggest CO2 removal system. Future generations are going to hate us for doing this. Plankton also produces around 70% of the oxygen we breathe (forests produce just 28%). It’s not a good idea to put anything in the ocean that’s toxic to plankton. In fact, it's stupid. We're smarter than this, aren't we?
Why do you think we should ban plastic toothbrushes?
The world’s problems seem so big, and it’s easy to wonder what can I, just one person, do about them? Climate change is a good example. Thankfully, there are lots of awesome people working on that. The world has lots of other problems too - overpopulation, poverty, inequality, racism, domestic violence, habitat loss, species extinctions, mental health, wars, refugees, bad food system, toxic politics, etc.. It goes on and on.
So I decided to pick just one problem, and try to fix that. Plastic pollution is a huge problem, and is actually worse than I realised when I started out. So my goal is to get plastic toothbrushes banned. There’s no reason to make them out of plastic, and the handle is so durable that it stays around on the planet, usually in land fill or in the ocean or on a beach - for hundreds and hundreds of years.
I know toothbrushes are a tiny part of the problem, but I've heard them called a ‘catalyst consumable’ - meaning they help us make other changes in behaviour too, serving as a twice-a-day reminder to reduce our plastic use, throughout our day. Get people to change their toothbrush to bamboo, and they’ll remember to reduce plastic throughout their day. We don't all use straws, or bags, every day. But we all use our toothbrush twice a day, every day. You know what else happens twice a day every day? The high tide deposits more plastic on beaches all around the world. Twice a day, every day. It’s a powerful reminder.
Why should I switch to a bamboo toothbrush?
Every plastic toothbrush you’ve ever used in your life is still in the world somewhere. Bamboo ones work just the same, and biodegrade when you finish with them. Governments around the world are starting to ban some single-use plastics, but no one’s talking about toothbrushes - yet! And they should! We simply can't afford to keep putting more plastic trash in the ocean. If something doesn't have to be made from plastic, it shouldn’t be. There are 3 billion plastic toothbrushes thrown out every year around the world, so there’s a long way to go.
There are 50 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, and we simply can’t afford for there to be any more. It kills marine life, litters beaches, releases greenhouse gasses, is toxic to plankton, and pollutes our food chain. A bamboo toothbrush is an easy way to reduce your plastic use, twice a day, every day, and a twice-daily reminder to reduce your plastic use throughout your day as well. It's not expensive, and makes a positive difference. What are you waiting for?
Where are your bamboo toothbrushes made?
Short answer: the same place every toothbrush you've ever used was probably made. Toothbrushes (whether plastic or bamboo) aren't manufactured in Australia (yet! - though this is my long-term goal), so I have a factory near the bamboo forests of China make my Australian-designed brushes. Before you boycott my brushes because they're made in China, ask yourself this - would you rather support American corporations who also make their brushes in China, or a local Aussie start-up trying to make a difference in the world?
Long answer: I have a factory in China making the brushes to my specifications, and insist on the best quality bamboo toothbrushes on the market. We use panda-friendly moso bamboo. It’s the bamboo famous for growing up to a meter per day, so it’s the ultimate renewable resource. Pandas don’t eat this variety of bamboo, so moso bamboo is considered ‘panda-friendly’. There’s no spraying of any kind needed in the bamboo forests, so it’s organic, but not certified as such so we don’t make the claim.
It’s a little known fact that the modern toothbrush was actually invented in China in the fourteenth century. Bamboo is one of ancient China’s gifts to the world, and to this day China is the world’s largest producer of bamboo. The Turtle Tribe partners with the carbon-offsetting charity Greenfleet who manage tree planting and forest restoration in Australia on our behalf to offset the carbon emissions produced by transporting our products from China to Australia.
Our bamboo toothbrush factory is in Yangzhou, in the Central-Eastern province of Jiangsu. The factory does not employ children, and our local agent points out that it’s illegal to employ children under 16. Most of the illegal child labour in China occurs in the garment industry, and is more common in rural and Western China. Yangzhou is in Central-Eastern China, where the education of children is both a right and compulsory by law, the same as it is in Australia.
Why do you say The Turtle Tribe bamboo toothbrushes are the best in the world?
When I started my business, there were lots of bamboo toothbrushes on the market already, and had been for years, but generally only in health food shops, and they were usually really expensive, as an 'eco' product, and often not that nice to hold or use. I know because when I started my business, these were the ones we sold! But I realised, this is never going to go mainstream and disrupt the plastic toothbrush market! So I decided to design and make my own.
I believe The Turtle Tribe bamboo toothbrushes are the best in the world. How can I claim this? By researching the best features of every bamboo toothbrush brand in the world and making sure my brush has every single one. My mentors call it ‘modelling world’s best practice.” (It’s not rocket science!)
“Wave’ style handle for comfortable gripHeat-treated bamboo for improved moisture resistanceCandelilla-wax polished handle for a smooth mouth feelDentist-designed bristle head, for all ages and great for getting to back teethOnly soft bristles, because that’s what dentists recommendBamboo-infused nylon bristles for extra durabilityTapered ‘floss-tipped’ bristles for best cleaning around gums‘Name’ spot on the handle‘Replace’ prompt on handle to remind users to replace after 3 months4 different coloured handle tips for shared bathroomsTrue zero-waste packaging10% of all profits go to ocean clean-up charity partnersAll at a great value price!
I challenge you to find another bamboo toothbrush that has all these features. Here are some recent online customer reviews:
“My New Go-To Toothbrush! These toothbrushes are so soft and not harsh on your teeth at all. I was also instantly attracted to the design of them, incorporating a personalised touch as you can write your name on it as well as a place to write down the date of expiry!”
“We love them. Our three kids are so proud using them. Love your work Ned”
“DEFINITELY worth the switch! So glad to have finally gotten out of my plastic habits! Such soft bristles which still maintain their shape, plus - such a handy idea providing a spot on the back to write down when it's time for a replacement. Awesome product!”
“The BEST bamboo toothbrushes! I have tried several different bamboo toothbrushes and none compare to The Turtle Tribe. Others I've had go bushy after a while and the bristles fall out. These are very well designed! Love them.”
What are the bristles made of?
I’m glad you asked. They’re nylon, just like every other toothbrush. It means they look, feel and work exactly the same as regular plastic toothbrushes. There’s no good alternative to this right now, but it’s only a tiny fraction of the weight of the product.
I've heard of two alternatives to nylon bristles - hogs hair, which sounds disgusting and is apparently too stiff, so very harsh on your tooth enamel, and plant-oil plastic bristles, which reportedly last less than a week before they're all splayed out and mushed up. So right now, nylon bristles are the best option. However there’s absolutely no reason to make the handle out of plastic, so we don’t – just 100% compostable/bio-degradable bamboo.
PS - if you REALLY don't want ANY plastic in your mouth/trash/oceans, the alternative to brush your teeth is the traditional toothstick - a 'miswak'
PPS - Don't believe the greenwash that nylon bristles are recyclable. There's NO WAY those tiny little bristle fibres are suitable for commercial recycling systems.
How do I look after my bamboo toothbrush?
I'm glad you asked. Bamboo is naturally anti-microbial, but as a natural product, it WILL go mouldy if kept wet all the time.
So here's the best advice - rinse and shake off your bamboo toothbrush after use, then leave somewhere to fully air-dry. DO NOT stand in water in a cup. I actually let mine dry in a shallow tray in the top bathroom drawer, so it's kept protected from the toilet. (See 'How long do bamboo toothbrushes last?'
I've had an occasional customer tell me their toothbrush went mouldy, and upon investigation, it's always because they stood it in water all day every day, or lived in a particularly humid place (if you live in a rainforest, you might want to store your spare bamboo toothbrushes in an air-tight container, or keep a moisture-absorbing pad in with them). My family and I have used them for years and never had any go mouldy.
How long do bamboo toothbrushes last?
Dental associations around the world recommend replacing your toothbrush, whatever it's made of, every 2-3 months, or after illness. There are a few reasons for this:
Worn and mishapen bristles don't clean your teeth as well because they don't poke into all the places they need to.
The bacterial buildup on your toothbrush gets disgusting after 2-3 months. This is actually the main reason to replace your toothbrush regularly, but toothbrush companies don't like talking about it too much. Just keep in mind that your toothbrush head is a warm, moist environment, scrubbing bacteria off your teeth every day. It's gonna get nasty. Even if the bristles look fine after 3 months, you should be replacing it. (Note - a lot of people don't! Some people go 6-12 months before replacing a toothbrush, and most people would have no idea how old their toothbrush is on any given day. That's what we put a 'Replace' prompt on The Turtle Tribe bamboo toothbrushes, so you can write the name of the month in 3 months time on there when you start using it and then forget about it. eg. opened a new brush in May? Write "AUG" on the handle. When August rolls around, it's time to get a new one. Easy.)
This bacterial load issue is the same reason you're supposed to replace your toothbrush after a respiratory illness. It's so you're not re-exposing yourself to bacteria, viruses, etc..that might have caused your illness.
The last word on this if you need any more convincing.... studies have shown that 60% of toothbrushes in shared bathrooms have someone else's faecal matter on the bristles. NOOO! EWWW!
How do I dispose of my bamboo toothbrush?
These brushes work and last just the same as regular plastic toothbrushes. The difference is when you throw them away. The plastic ones will be around long after you’re gone (hundreds to thousands of years!) but with bamboo toothbrushes, you simply remove the bristles with pliers or cut the whole head off with garden cutters, then throw it away and compost the handle.
Nylon bristles, despite the claims that some people make, are NOT recyclable. Though they're a fraction of the weight of the product and there's no good alternative right now. (See "What are the bristles made of?')
Is your packaging and shipping environmentally-friendly too?
All our packaging (except for tee shirts) – boxes, cases, floss containers, even the packing tape we use, is plastic free. I don’t understand why some bamboo toothbrushes come in plastic packaging. It doesn’t make sense. (Come on supermarkets - you can do better than that!)
So here's what we do: 100% biodegradable cardboard box. No plastic packaging. No PLA bioplastic bag that may or may not compost. No gloss cardboard with a thin plastic coating.
Some competitor's packaging is ether plastic, gloss cardboard with a thin plastic coating, or include a PLA bio-plastic sealed bag around the brush inside the box. Our packaging is 100% compostable/recyclable cardboard, with no components that can’t break down. The compostablility of PLA bio-plastic is questionable and we avoid it if we can.
Are there bamboo heads for electric toothbrushes?
Sadly, no. We've had extensive conversations with a manufacturer in China regarding bamboo replacements for electric toothbrushes, and due to technical issues, they are not currently available.
There is only one manufacturer on Chinese trade websites indicating they’re working on this. We spoke to them directly when in China recently, and they actually conceded they’re shelving the project for now.
Issues include the fact that bamboo warps when wet - and given the narrow width of bamboo required for the design of the toothbrush, the bamboo warps and impedes the moving mechanism within. They are also have trouble drilling a hole in the bamboo - to house the moving parts - without the bamboo splitting.
I expect it’s more suited to manufacture with PLA corn-based bioplastic, which CAN be biodegradable, but only when PLA-specific industrial composting is developed around the world in each country. This is a long process that I think will happen, but requires PLA plastic sorting at recycling centres which currently doesn't happen.
A biodegradable alternative to plastic heads for electric toothbrushes will probably only happen when the world's biggest maker of them, Oral-B, puts the money into research and development to make it happen.
In the meantime, look for specific recycling schemes who take them back, and support them.
All that said, for now, the human powered bamboo toothbrush works well!
Kids in Business
How does an 11 year old kid start a business?
I began my business when I was 11 because my parents enrolled me in a Youth in Business course. My mentors encouraged me to find something I was passionate about and build a business around it. I’ve grown up camping on the wild Pacific Ocean beach of Moreton Island National Park and have seen first hand the plastic pollution that washes up on the beach. My mission is to reduce ocean plastics, and my business supports that.
The Youth in Business program shows how easy it is for kids to start a business, and supported me from the beginning. In many ways, it's easier for kids to be successful in business, because everyone wants to help you - customers, suppliers, media, other business owners, and mentors. I've had a huge amount of help to get to where I am today, which I appreciate very much. You can do it too - let me know if I can help!
What made you want to start The Turtle Tribe?
I camp at a national park called Mulgumpin (formerly Moreton Island) every year and have seen with my own eyes just how much plastic washes up on the beach. And I know the same’s happening on every beach in the world. When I started the Youth in Business program, I was glad I could start a business selling eco-friendly products, to be part of the solution.
Thankfully, governments in Australia and around the world are starting to ban single-use plastics like thin bags, cutlery, straws, etc... but no one was talking about plastic toothbrushes, and I knew how common they were washing up on beaches. So I started my campaign to get plastic toothbrushes banned, and offered an better alternative so a ban was feasible and possible.
See my mission page for more information.
What's the best thing about having a business?
The best thing about having a business is not making money. If that's you're only focus you probably won't make it, and should just get a job. It's feeling as though you're part of the solution, and in control of your own destiny. It's empowering and inspiring others. Making a difference. Meeting other awesome people who are also doing great things. Making the world better, in what ever way is their passion.
They say you're the average of the five people you hang out with the most. So find awesome, smart, passionate, positive, conscious, motivated, hard-working people, and hang out with them if you can, even if only online. These are the kind of people who run start-ups and successful businesses.
How are you giving away one million bamboo toothbrushes?
I get asked this one a lot. I'll start by saying I'm not rich, and I'm not naive.
I really do intend to give away one million bamboo toothbrushes for free. Sales of extra toothbrushes and other products on my website keep me in business, and allow me to give away more free ones. It's that simple. I've given them to schools and charities, and just people who visit my website after seeing me in the media.
So far I've only given away a several thousand, but once I've given away a million, I know there'll have been an enormous disruption to the plastic toothbrush market in Australia. Like my mentors told me, 'Aim high!'
What advice do you have for other kids who want to start a business?
Find something you're passionate about - there will be challenges and you'll need to really believe in what your doing to push through them.
Find mentors - Luke had ObiWan Kenobi, Rey had Luke. Finding the right mentors makes all the difference. I had my parents and Youth in Business. If you don't have a physical person right now to be your mentor, read books. Like No Excuses by Brian Tracey, The Magic of Thinking Big, Who Moved the Cheese?, and The Richest Man in Babylon.
Be persistent - Walt Disney nearly went out of business. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonalds believed "Talent will not get you there. Only persistence will." It helps if you know to expect a bumpy ride. I found this picture particularly helpful:
Aim high - "If you shoot for a tree and miss, you'll hit a rock. Shoot for the moon. If you miss, you'll land in the stars!"
Set goals - and then plan how you'll get there. A goal without a plan is a 'wish'. And write your goals down - it's makes them 10x more likely to happen. Try it!
You got this.