Sustainability within bio børstenFor our blog series “Doing business with an impact” we interviewed Ola Bungum, co-founder of the company bio børsten. Their contributions toward the 2030 Agenda lies on 3 Sustainable Development Goals – SDG 13: Climate Action, SDG 14: Life below water, and SDG 15: Life on land.
Can you tell me about bio børsten? What do you do?
Ola: Bio børsten makes sustainable and degradable toothbrushes which are made out of bamboo.
Why exactly toothbrushes?
Ola: We generate a huge amount of plastic waste in throwing away toothbrushes. People would not think that might be the case. However, if you look at the entire globe, we use 3,5 billion toothbrushes every year. And that amounts to 70.000 tons of plastic.
This is quite significant because toothbrushes are objects that you use for a couple of months. After that, you throw them away.
Basically, we set out to make the first and most sustainable alternative. We want to make our product the best toothbrush you can find on the market which, at the same time, is also sustainable.
How is your product sustainable?
Ola: We are sustainable in a couple of different ways. Starting with the materials, we chose bamboo and nylon. Nylon is plastic so we have not gone completely plastic-free. But if you consider the mass of a conventional toothbrush, 98 per cent of the plastic is in the handle itself. And that is what we have eliminated by making it out of bamboo instead. In addition, if our toothbrush should somehow end up in the ocean or in nature, it degrades over a period of five years maximum. If you compare that to a conventional toothbrush, it would degrade over a period of time that goes from 400 to 500 years, due to its plastic composition.
Moreover, bamboo is highly sustainable because it grows extremely quickly and without the use of any artificial irrigation, fertilizer or pesticides. There are plantations in China where you have lots of bamboo growing and flourishing. China has such optimal conditions that the plantations can grow up to a meter a day. The life cycle of the bamboo lasts three years. In other words, in just three years you can harvest the bamboo and then replant it again. Therefore, it is a replenishing material that grows quickly and can absorb a lot of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Second of all, our product is completely chemical-free. It is simply two ingredients: bamboo and nylon. The bristles head and nylon bristles are infused with bamboo charcoal. So, there are basically just two materials. No plastic softens. Even the bristles themselves are not glued, they are attached in a U-shape with a small wedge into small holes in the toothbrush head.
Finally, our production is under strict supervision when it comes to working conditions. The suppliers own the plantation and the factory is certified by an organization which regularly inspects whether requirements for working conditions are met, as well as for general product safety.
Do you think that sustainability is important and why?
Ola: Yes, we believe sustainability is extremely important. There is one fundamental reason: the amount of production that we have right now it is not sustainable anymore. Actions are needed in order to preserve what we have. If we destroy and exploit our planet now, we diminish the opportunity for our children to have a fruitful and proper life.
Recently I read the book “Collapse” by Jared Diamond, in which he argues that ecological collapse and ecological challenges are not something new. They already existed in past eras. And they are the reason that many societies have collapsed, even extremely advanced civilizations. If we take Easter Island as an example, where the population there had chopped down all trees. When the archaeologists discovered these islands, those lands were practically uninhabited. And that was a very advanced society.
The same thing can be applied to our situation. The only difference is that we have become so good at exploiting nature. Now we can do it at a scale that we are not risking a small island as a single society but we are risking the entire globe. So, that is why I think sustainability is important. And we must make the change towards resource preservation and sustainable business practices now. If not, society will collapse under ecological pressure.
How is your product or service connected to the SDGs and which one particularly?
Ola: The Sustainable Development Goal that fit our business directly is SDG 12 Responsible Consumption and Production. Indirectly, we support SDG 15 Life on land and SDG 8 Decent Work and Economic Growth.
As I said before, our material choice instead of being oil-based is bamboo, which gives us the possibility to offer to the market a high-quality sustainable alternative to the conventional toothbrush.
In relation to SDG 15, we can ensure that it does not degrade over 400-500 years but in four to five years. Considering the everyday usage of toothbrushes, I believe that we need to take serious action towards reducing the plastic in toothbrushes. SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth is reinforced by our choice of supplier. Our supplier is certified from a number of organizations, among them an organization called SGS. This organization makes sure that workers have good and safe working conditions, and that they receive fair remuneration.
Lastly, I think that if people are reminded daily that they made a sustainable and eco-conscious choice, it will nudge them to make sustainable decisions. At least that is my perspective and my hope.
What are your next steps for making bio børsten even greener?
Ola: This is a great question. We can definitely become greener. I think the first step is to rethink which materials we use and how much we use them. As I mentioned before, the product is made out of bamboo and nylon, which is still plastic and it is based on oil. What we are working on is to replace the nylon bristles with a sustainable alternative. We have not taken a decision yet, but there is a lot of new materials which has many of the same characteristics as nylon. For instance, there are new types of sustainably-produced viscose, i.e. fibres made from wood pulp, that can be spun into bristles.
Consequently, we would have a product which would both come from sustainable sources and be even more biodegradable.
The second thing is that we could use less material both for the toothbrush itself and packaging. Moreover, I think customers would be happier if they had less packaging and therefore less trash.
We are working also on creating partnerships with social institutions. For example, we have a partnership with a homeless shelter in Copenhagen. Some homeless people have very poor dental health and by sponsoring and giving them a toothbrush when they arrive at the shelter, we can encourage better dental health.
Do you have any tips for other companies that want to work with the sustainability?
Ola: I think it is very important to start with a clear ambition. If you want to be sustainable, the first thing you need to do is to set your mission and determine what you want to achieve. Do you just want to be good for society or make your product completely sustainable?
Then I think it is also very important to make something that is relevant to your area. So if it is an established company, you need to find something that is relevant to what you are doing. Otherwise, I simply cannot see it working in an effective manner.
These would be my three suggestions. set a goal, be ambitious about it and make something that is relevant to your company.