Anne Hathaway recently posted a short videoclip from her film The Devil Wears Prada. The rather mundane clip features herself brushing her teeth in front of a mirror. Below, the following caption: Did you know that very single toothbrush that has ever been used ever is still on the planet?!!! It’s true! And gross!!
A simple calculation, just to put things into perspective: a toothbrush is approximately 1cm wide x 20cm long, which means it covers a surface of approximately 20cm². On average, it is recommended that toothbrushes are replaced every three months, which means roughly 4 toothbrushes per year. Since my first tooth has come out, I have honoured Mother Earth with 92 toothbrushes in total. If I could retrieve them all, I would be able to cover the entire floor of this tiny apartment with my toothbrushes all lined up next to each other (18.40m² ca.). And this is just myself.
It is quite difficult to find accurate global statistics on toothbrush users, but let’s say that we are 7.2 billion at the moment, 2.7 of which do not have full access to improved sanitation. Now, this does not mean that this couple of billion of people do not use toothbrushes at all, but let’s put them aside for now. This leaves us with 4.5 billion people. In one year, these people (us) ensure that 18 billion toothbrushes fill our landfills. All lined up, they make up to 3,600km², twice the territory of London! Two Londons covered in billions of toothbrushes orderly laid on the ground, next to each other. Which also means that after 87 years of worldwide toothbrush experience, we could wrap Poland (312,679 km2) under a layer of plastic toothbrushes.
What a memorable achievement for humankind.
This is obviously a bunch of pub maths and questionable data, but it is a good exercise to grasp the enormity of the problem we are facing right now. As a society, we seem to have lost contact with the limitedness of the environment. We are more, and produce a lot more, including many disputably useful things that we send to the landfill after a single use. Every – single – day.
The example I provided here accounts for one of the many products that fill our lives and pollute our children’s. We don’t know where or how these products are made. We just grab them off our supermarket’s shelf, buy them, use them, and throw them away into the mystical black hole where all the things we throw away go. As though they simply ceased to exist.
Well, it turns out that they do go somewhere. And wherever that is, they stay around for quite a long time.
This must stop.
The issue of plastic pollution has been widely addressed by charities, businesses, and political authorities. The mass consumption of single-use plastic is becoming catastrophic. We’ve come to a point in history where global behavioural trends (i.e. universal use of plastic) must be reversed.
Fortunately, there is already something in the air, and it smells like outrage. Non-recyclable plastic is slowly becoming public enemy number 1: people have started seeing the “bigger picture”, the long-term effects, the baby turtles trapped in plastic, or – in my case – the sea of toothbrushes looming over Poland. People are talking about it, are re-considering their choices, are demanding compliance. Many have started to think about the impact of their choices . And this is the most powerful weapon we have.
The corporate world is all over our data: our spending habits, brand perceptions, consumption trends. And they can’t ignore the figures. Our clubcards are there to tell supermarkets what we want, what we don’t like, where their marketing strategies succeed or fail. They base their offers on what we place in our trolleys. Which means that a collective adjustment of shopping habits towards sustainability will push retailers to re-organise their supplies accordingly.
We can solve the many challenges that a plastic-free shopping experience entails can if we demand change from below. The formula does require some motivation, but it’s very simple: Cut waste. Scan your Clubcard. Save Poland. (And do give bamboo toothbrushes a go. They’re great).