Reuse, recycle, repair – Oral-B disaster

Sometime ago I commented on the repair status for iPhones, like my no longer used Palm Treo, which was subsequently a target for a class action lawsuit over breakdowns, the iPhone has some expensive repair options and I said at the time “Is it unreasonable to expect the designers of one of the best gadgets in the last few years to think about how they are serviced, refurbished and disposed of, I think not.

We simply can’t go on forever buying stuff and dumping the old, unwanted broken stuff without regard.”

Oral-B Pulsar vibrating toothbrush Picture AttributionNoncommercialShare AlikeSome rights reserved by Inju

And so it was last Friday evening I was making my usual dash up and down the isles at the grocery store. I don’t make a list, since I live alone I can mostly look at the isle and decide if I need to go down it.

I knew my tooth brush had reached the “sorry” stage and needed to be replaced. I’d owned one of those electric ones with the big handle that took 2x AA batteries and had two distinct heads, one rotated and the other moved up and down. Only the head wasn’t really big enough for me, so I’d stopped using it.

As I glanced through the racks and racks of toothbrushes I glanced at one by Oral-B that looked like it had a good size head, I picked it up band threw it in my shopping cart.

Yesterday morning, after reading this excellent post by Adobe all around good guy, Duane Nickull, on how to improve Vancouver. Duane lists a staggering number of good/simple steps, including “2. Immediately ban the sale of the following items from store shelves within Vancouver:” – Duane went on to list a number of common sense things.

I’d like to add at least one Duane, this Oral-B Pulsar toothbrush. This is outrageous. When I opened it, rather than buy a regular toothbrush, I found I’d bought an electric one. Worse than that, the tootbrush couldn’t be opened and specifically said on the packet that the battery was not designed to be replaced.

Given the tootbrush part isn’t going to last more than 6-8 weeks brushing twice per day for a reasonable amount of time, that means I’d be wasting 7x entirely good eletric motors per year, worse still, I’d be deliberately disposing of 7x AA batteries into landfill per year with all the environmental impact that has. It’s not unreasonable to assume that Procter and Gamble will sell at least half a million of these each year, the landfill consequences of dumping those batteries is unforgivable.

I’ve written Oral-B telling them that I’m buycotting their toothbrushes until they withdraw this product, or at least modify it and the instructions so the battery can be removed and the instructions tell you to remove the battery before discarding it. Please do the same. Their contact details are here. 

[Update: My email submission was assigned  ‘090127-000612’.]

4 Responses to “Reuse, recycle, repair – Oral-B disaster”

  1. 1 Mike April 14, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Mark. I had a similar sentiment. As toothbrushes go, they seem to work just fine, but I am also concerned about their environmental impact. Did you ever get a response from Oral-B?

    FYI: I came across your blog by way of a Google search for the terms “oral-b pulsar recycle”. Your blog entry was the top link, in fact.

  2. 2 Mark Cathcart April 15, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Mike, thanks for the feedback. No of course I didn’t hear from them. I’ll never buy another one, I know that it pointless to complain, after all millions of people just throw billions of regular batteries in their trash, but hey I don’t.

  3. 3 Val May 26, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Hi. It is possible and quite easy to remove the battery (though not very obvious how to do that). You have to spin the lower part of the handle against the rest of the toothbrush and viola – it opens up.
    However, I’m still not sure if the toothbrush belongs with recyclables or not (probably not..).

  4. 4 Mark Cathcart May 26, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Val, thanks for the feedback. I never bought another, as I said, buying this one was an accident. I did try various options to remove the battery, in the end I took a hacksaw to it before discarding it and put the battery along with my yearly total to our local recycling center.

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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