While looking at photos of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch–the swirling mass of plastic twice the size of the U.S. that floats halfway between California and Hawaii–industrial designer Patrick Triato stumbled on pictures of birds that had accidentally eaten some of that plastic. Inside one of the birds, along with bottlecaps, was a fully intact toothbrush.
Americans toss out an estimated 50 million pounds of toothbrushes each year; inspired by the photo of the bird, Triato decided he wanted to do something about that fact. His solution, the new Goodwell toothbrush, is designed to last a lifetime.
“I had kind of taken a step back and looked at my career as an industrial designer,” Triato says. “I was thinking, what am I working on right now that I’m particularly proud of, that can actually do some good? Something deeper than working just to work, or producing stuff for larger companies I can’t really stand behind. That’s where it started.”
The handle of the new toothbrush, made from aluminum, is guaranteed for life. The tips–which still need to change every few months for reasons of hygiene–can be composted. Plant one in your backyard, and it will start to decompose within about 90 days. Each day, a tip for brushing can be swapped with attachments for a tongue scraper or a flosser.
The bristles are made from Binchotan, charcoal that naturally removes plaque and freshens breath. “It’s been used in Japan for hundreds of years as an air and water purifier,” Triato says.”It’s very common in Japan, but not in Western culture. I’d found it in Tokyo, and liked it. I figured if we’re going to come out with a toothbrush we might as well push the envelope and make a black bristle.”
An optional kit for the handle turns it into a smart toothbrush that measures how long you brush (or floss) and sends the data to an app. Eventually, Triato hopes to give customers the option to share the data with their dental insurance companies, so those with better hygiene can get better rates.
Though the toothbrush reduces waste, it might actually get people to get new brushes more often. The tips are sold by subscription. “I don’t know if toothbrushes are on your grocery list every three months, but they’re definitely not on mine,” Triato says. “The subscription reminds people to regularly change out their brush.”
The brush is also open source, so anyone can design attachments. If you’re camping, for example, maybe you’d want to design a spork that you can pop on to eat your meal, and then swap back to a brush afterward. “Maybe people will have better ideas–we’re hoping that’s the case,” Triato says. “We wanted to put it out there and get the community involved.”
Goodwell is currently raising funds on Crowd Supply.