I had the opportunity to sit down with Manju Kumar, co-founder of Brush with Bamboo. It was a pleasure speaking with her about her company and all she does to help better the environment. Manju discussed both her passions and her fears when it comes to our planet.
Listen to the Complete Interview
Listen to our conversation with Manju below, then learn more about Manju’s bedtime and morning routines in our ongoing interview series: The Morning Questionnaire!
There are many environmentally friendly products on the market. Your company focuses on toothbrushes and other oral care products. Tell me how Brush with Bamboo started and why you decided to get into the toothbrush business.
Everything starts with your own needs first. When you learn about something and you know that it’s toxic, you try to look for a solution. We’re putting this toothbrush in our mouth everyday. We then started to think about what we can do—what is the alternative. Japan has had the bamboo toothbrush for way longer than the United States so we worked on getting one made. I’m very passionate about Brush with Bamboo and reducing plastic in all areas of my life. I don’t think I can claim that all my plastic fits in a jar, but I try to recycle everything that I can and not buy things that are made with plastic, including clothing, like polyesters. I try to stay with cottons and try to buy in glass jars and in bulk.
How long did it take to create your plant-based bamboo toothbrush?
It took about nine months. It was a lot of testing and getting the certifications. We also had Beth Terry guide us because we were new to reducing plastic and Beth had been doing it for awhile. She was a big guiding force to help us get it to the best it could be.
And by “us,” do you mean your family?
Yes, we all work on different areas. My son Rohit does a lot of the development—all of the design and the packaging. My husband is more into the numbers. I work with Rohit and bounce ideas around. We’re more on the creative side. My youngest son is the farmer of the family.
What are the different components of the toothbrush?
The handle is one piece so we can avoid any kinds of glues. If you gave it a fancier shape you would have to rely on glues. The bristles are plant-based; they are 62% castor bean oil. It’s still plastic but it’s not petroleum-based. We just want to get away from the petrol chemical as much as we can. Right now, this is the best option. Hopefully somewhere down the line someone will invent the bristle that totally decomposes on its own. That would be amazing. Our packaging is 100% recyclable and again, the toothbrush is wrapped in a plant-based plastic which is compostable in a facility that uses high heat. It’s not something that home composting can handle but more for a professional facility. You can throw it into your green waste bin though and that should be okay.
What are the benefits of bamboo?
Bamboo is a grass so it can grow really fast in comparison to a tree. There’s different types of bamboo. We are using something called a Musa bamboo. It’s a really thick bamboo. Bamboo itself is not like a tree. A tree has a really long life. Bamboo can start to degrade after 10 years; it will eventually fall. It’s not like you’re removing something that takes in a lot of carbon from the air. It’s easy to renew the bamboo.
You also sell bamboo drinking straws that can last for years if properly washed and cared for. Why did you decide to add straws to the mix?
I was in Southeast Asia and I saw that they were using bamboo straws. They also use Papaya leaf stems but you can’t bring that over. They use them a lot, even in restaurants. It just fit right into what we’re doing. We’re trying to reduce plastic. There are a huge number of plastic straws that are being thrown away daily. Some people have to use a straw for medical conditions. There are times when you just want to use a straw. Bamboo is really affordable—if you lose one, it’s no big deal. It also decomposes…bamboo is very cool.
Are there any other products you’d like Brush with Bamboo to offer in the future?
I would love to add a lot of products like cotton swabs and dental floss because they involve a lot of plastic. I’d like a whole hygeine line that is plastic free.
What are some easy changes people can make in their lives to be more eco-friendly?
The bamboo toothbrush is a great place to start. You wake up in the morning and know that you’re not using plastic. It will keep that idea in your head to reduce plastic. It’s very challenging, even for myself, to break those habits. Breaking those habits takes a long time so just be patient and vigilant. If I have to hand carry my groceries because I forgot my bag, that’s what I do. A lot of times people don’t even think about it. They’ll put one item in a plastic bag and it’s so easily avoidable. You can always carry one item—even five items—without a plastic bag. The biggest challenge is opening up your handbag and looking at everything and realizing how many plastic things you have…or looking around at your house and identifying the plastic. You become aware of your habits. We’re not saving the planet—we’re really saving ourselves. Once that hits home, it’s just constant vigilance and saying “no, thank you.” Choosing is the only thing we have.
After I interviewed Lauren Singer for our blog (which was fantastic), I started to think more about what the products we use on a daily basis that we don’t necessarily need to use; we can at least find an alternative for some items. I bought a reusable bag and purchased your bamboo toothbrush. I also started looking at all the trash on the side of the roads that I travel on everyday. There is all this trash that is just scattered and I hadn’t noticed it before—not because it wasn’t there, but because I just wasn’t thinking about it. I look over at this lovely green grass and then all these bottles, soda cans and plastic bags that are just sitting there for no reason. It’s shocking.
Yes, it is shocking. Fifty years ago, this wasn’t as big of a problem. I come from India. Fifty years ago plastic wasn’t there and there wasn’t a lot of trash. Now when you go to India, they don’t have an efficient waste removal process like we do over here. Whatever you make, you see it. The United States has a pretty efficient waste removal system. It’s all there though. It’s out of our sight so we think it’s not there. Other countries that aren’t as developed see it everyday but you become immune to the waste. You start to accept it. Humanity has now started to understand that it’s a problem that we’re all dealing with. I’m super excited that we’re all waking up on some level and enthusiastically making changes.
Who has inspired you to live a healthier and greener life?
I would say my kids—my kids have been my teachers. I went traveling one time and all my teflon pots and pans were gone! You’re your children’s teachers but then your children can become your teachers. My boys are really great men. I really admire them and they’ve been a great inspiration for me. I’ve got awesome kids.
I think it’s fantastic that you have this company to share with them and that you have this common goal and passion. It’s rare when a family can share in that together and create something that has a strong impact like this bamboo toothbrush. It’s a wonderful step in the right direction. I went on your website and watched your video. It was very informative about how many toothbrushes end up in landfills and in the ocean and how we can avoid it.
The shocking thing is that the first toothbrush that was ever invented is still here—that’s a scary thought! Around 1939 was when the first plastic toothbrushes came along. And to think that we don’t have a recycling plan for the plastic toothbrushes either is even more saddening. I have a friend who is working at Midway Island right now and there are a lot of baby birds that have swallowed toothbrushes. You would think that animals would instinctively know not to eat something that isn’t food. A lot of times they confuse food with other things because of the shape and color; it can be unavoidable for them. They don’t have hands—they just open their mouths and everything flows in. It’s sad to see all that plastic in their bellies. It’s disgusting that we’re polluting their homes. Animals are beings. Everyone who has a cat or dog can relate. They have feelings and temperaments. Maybe they can’t talk and use their hands like we do but they are beings. We should coexist.