Irish Examiner: Is VirtueBrush the answer to plastic toothbrushes and their environmental impact?
Kehlan Kirwan talks with Dylan Regan, creator of the VirtueBrush, a toothbrush made from bamboo and charcoal nylon, created to answer the environmental question of plastic toothbrushes and their impact on our land and seas.
What is VirtueBrush?
VirtueBrush is a sustainable plant-based bamboo toothbrush made with a 100% Moso bamboo handle. From that point of view, it’s a favourable alternative to the plastic toothbrushes that can’t be recycled. That plastic often ends up in the landfill or makes its way into our waterways and causing damage to our environment.
Toothbrushes look like small innocent little items that help us clean our teeth, items we use every day. Collectively, though, it adds up to a lot of plastic.
I recently heard a statistic that said if everybody in the world was required to use just one plastic toothbrush in a year, that alone would equate to over 100,000 tons of plastic. When I was starting out with VirtueBrush, I got on to my local Repak.
They give out information on recyclable items within the household. Unfortunately, toothbrushes aren’t on the list. Because of the materials used in toothbrushes just aren’t getting recycled, that’s a huge amount of plastic just sitting there.
When plastics like that sitting there, it begins to break down, meaning over time it gets into our waterways and our seas. It’s probably already made it into our food chain through the likes of fish.
So we’re still trying to figure out how we can tackle that problem. We’re using a plant called Moso bamboo that has featured in Chinese culture for millennia. Bamboo is a type of grass which contains antibacterial qualities. That makes it quite ideal for use as a toothbrush handle.
What this company is founded on is that this material is an ideal replacement for many types of plastics. People have been responding to VirtueBrush and telling us they prefer it to the plastic ones. From the point of market research, it is the correct material to use.
How did you get the idea for a sustainable toothbrush?
I’ve been interested in sustainability and the environment for a long time now. Recently I started a blog called Green Living and during that time, I focused on what products could be used to get us moving on a more sustainable path.
Instead of focusing on advanced technology, I decided to look at the household. What popped to the forefront of my mind was this plastic toothbrush that we’re all using all the time. I wondered if there would be another way of making that so that it was biodegradable.
After some research, I found Moso bamboo. I contacted a Moso bamboo plantation, one which has been around for a very long time. We pushed for and got European CE certification.
What we have at the moment is a very high-quality toothbrush made from the bamboo material. It really came from the blog Green Living and asking the question about how do we really go green?
I came up with a product that I hope represents the answer to that and more importantly, make an impact on the environment in a meaningful way. We’ve come full circle with this toothbrush and creating a symbol for sustainability in the home and that it is easily achievable.
It’s a great product, but how do you make your business model sustainable?
We’ve tried to price it competitively against other high-quality toothbrushes, it’s retailing at €4.95 online.
Thankfully we’re already making sales — slowly but surely, people are becoming more and more aware of VirtueBrush.
People are ordering online and dropping into SuperValu in Churchtown and a few pharmacies in Dublin city centre. What we’re really aiming for is to have a chain stockist take this on to their shelves. Getting customers is the best way to fund a business, rather than a bank or business angels.
For me, the most important funding for your business comes from your customer, it’s about sales. That’s how we’re funding our business at the moment and that how we hope to do it in the future.
You can be fooling yourself if you’re chasing the funding and not the sales. You have to have the sales coming in to a certain extent. We’re pretty lucky that the price of our product is relatively low. It would be good to get a large order with a large pharmacy chain or even an airline.
Toothbrushes can go through so many different channels and it’s about getting that right. Everybody needs toothbrushes, so that’s what is important for us. We are in a market where people need our product. It’s not an item that people can take or leave, everybody needs and should have a toothbrush.
Our customers are ordinary people who buy our product and help do something for the environment.
So I buy the toothbrush, use it, and throw it away after three months. Where do I put it?
I usually just throw it into my compost bin or organic waste. You can use it for fire kindling, you can use it for odd jobs if you want to hold on to it. The bristles that we’re using are tensile grade nylon bristles, high-grade bristles.
You can pull them out or cut them off to keep them completely separate from your waste. What this is about is cutting down dramatically on the huge amount of waste that plastic toothbrushes use.
So to have something that you can simply throw into compost or organic waste is really important. We also have an initiative, Trees for the Future, where we plant three trees for every toothbrush that we sell. They are planted primarily in the equatorial countries around the world. That means that with every brush you buy, you are adding more trees to the planet.
We have to have sustainability at our heart and Trees for the Future is important for not just saying we’re sustainable but also backing it up with actions.
Article by Kehlan Kirwan