3 billion plastic toothbrushes end up in landfills and waterways EVERY YEAR.
Let’s be real – that’s a shocking statistic. And that’s a huge problem. I had the chance to learn from and interview James Staley, one of the inspiring minds behind recently launched SmileBambu. In all honesty, this is one of the posts I’d recommend we all read because of the reality-checks, and how every small change we make can add up to a huge positive impact.
Think about it this way, all the times we used plastic for anything small has added up to such a negative impact – imagine what we can do with the same mentality, come together and make small changes to move away from plastic
If you are going to do an eco-product, find a way to make it practical for the average person vs. just the affluent.James from SmileBambu
What is Smile Bambu and what differentiates you from the others in the market?
We realized that most of the bamboo options on the market either didn’t do enough to tackle the environmental promise (i.e. using bleached/lacquered paper, clamshell packaging, etc.) or they were at a price that many consumers wouldn’t find affordable.
Affordability, Simplicity and Impact. Our mandate is as follows:
- Sell a bamboo toothbrush at a price that allows most consumers to switch from plastic without paying a premium.
- Use packaging that doesn’t require “special recycling” instructions – mitigating potential contamination of current recycling programs.
- Contribute to consumer education to help prevent plastic from entering our waterways in the first place.
The reality is that many consumers won’t pay a higher price for a disposable toothbrush and the current gap to switch to bamboo is three times the price of plastic.On why affordability is key to help make the transition
What is so important about being able to toss your toothbrush into compost?
3 Billion plastic toothbrushes end up in landfills and waterways EVERY YEAR. This is a simple way to do your part in curbing that. More pressure should be placed on your local dentist to give sustainable alternatives to plastic.
From my understanding, you use a certain type of bamboo. Would you mind explaining to us what type this is and why it is important to be mindful of the type of bamboo being used?
We use Moso bamboo which is one of the most sustainable. It is a fast-growing crop with shoot-to-tree growth occurring in 50-60days. We wanted to use bamboo that is grown in a crop vs. pulled from a forest.
Affordability, Simplicity and Impact.
What are your thoughts on plastic pollution and, how vital do you think it is for us, as a society, to make a change?
I think we all can be more mindful. The diehards out there will insist on a full-lifestyle change and that everything needs to be 100% non-plastic from day one. Unfortunately, this is not practical. I see eco-responsibility as a spectrum. Getting on the spectrum is better than not. Start with something easy and build from there. You don’t have to buy an electric car, but you can choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator for 2 floors. You can use a refillable cup instead of buying bottled water, etc.. I think sometimes people just don’t bother because they feel that it is an all or nothing proposition.
It makes me extremely happy that you chose to partner with Plastic Oceans Canada to promote these toothbrushes while giving back to our oceans. Would you mind sharing with us how important the ocean is for our future generations?
The impact is going to be devastating for future generations including my own kids. However, for some people, they won’t make a change until they see it in their daily lives. What they are missing is that this is hitting them right now. The plastic in our oceans is being eaten by fish and the microbes and fish that are eating. This plastic is entering our food stream and coming full circle back to us. Think about that next time you are having sushi.
What do you aim to achieve from launching this toothbrush? Are there any other sustainable ideas you are planning to add to your portfolio?
We make very little on these brushes, and what little we make gets shared with the foundation. However, we wanted to prove that a bamboo brush could compete with the cost on plastic if someone was willing to put ideology first. We are not perfect with our portfolio of products, but this is an area where we knew we could make an impact. The reality is that many consumers won’t pay a higher price for a disposable toothbrush and the current gap to switch to bamboo is three times the price of plastic. I believe we are the first ones to address this by bringing the price close to parity. It is now an ethical decision for the consumer, not a financial one. We want our portfolio to be simple and will only line-extend where we can do it on a mainstream product.
Would you mind sharing how you’re making a huge impact on your distribution (dentists)?
Well, we just launched last week, so I think “huge” may be an overstatement at this point. We are, however, focused on working with dentists who want to make a switch to bamboo. In less than a week we already have a good number of dentists on board. They are faced with the same dilemma that the consumer is. They want to be more environmentally responsible, but until now, that would take a sizeable investment on their part. Our price is very attractive to dentists. Likewise, we only launched soft bristles because that is what dentists recommend. There are no excuses now with our brush.
What obstacles have you encountered in your SmileBambu journey?
The main obstacle was the balance between presentation and environment. We had to accept that eco-friendly should trump pretty. We had the option of going with a clear veg-plastic internal wrapper, but the problem is that most consumers will just throw that into a blue bin, which can contaminate the PET recycling stream and cause more unintentional waste than they realize. So, we went with an opaque internal sleeve made from compostable non-woven fabric.
We could have used a bright white non-compostable box like some of the other guys (which shows the packaging graphics really well), but that would defeat the purpose of our main goal.
Going forward, the real challenge will be scaling up across the country. People can help us by asking their dentist to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and find out how we can get Smile Bambu in their office.
What has been your proudest moment during your Smile Bambu journey?
The proudest moment was our partnership with Plastic Oceans. We are both aligned so well with the Smile Bambu mandate and what we are trying to achieve with this brush. I have learned a lot from this organization and my hope is that more people will get involved. Little actions can make big differences.
For other sustainable entrepreneurs out there, what kind of advice do you have for those wanting to launch unreal products like the Smile Bambu?
Choose practical over sexy. There are other bamboo brushes out there that are sexier than ours, but not as great for the environment and certainly not as affordable. If you are going to do an eco-product, find a way to make it practical for the average person vs. just the affluent.
This interview was truly inspiring for me which is why I wholeheartedly believe sharing these insights and experiences can help us all make small changes that will lead to huge benefits.
We should all realize that our habits, demands, and purchases all drive what our economy will transition to in the future. If we do not make the change at a personal, household or business level, large organizations and the market in general, will continue producing products that lead to increased profitability. The moment we are mindful and make an effort to change our habits, we can be part of a positive paradigm shift leading to a transition to a greener economy.