As we know, people are turning against plastic straws. Society has decided enough is enough. Entrepreneur Christina Ramirez wants them to think about another piece of plastic they use every day — the toothbrush. She created a bamboo toothbrush so that we can eventually tell plastic toothbrushes ‘good-bye’.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for years,” said Ramirez. “Plastic is bad for the environment and for your body because of chemicals in it. Why would you want to put it in your mouth?”
Ramirez’s startup, Plus Ultra, has been on a mission since 2012 to raise awareness about toothbrushes, another throwaway plastic item, and replace them with toothbrushes made from bamboo.
The idea had been in her mind since going back to a college paper she wrote as a global studies major at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Her paper was about reducing plastic waste by reimagining the conventional toothbrush in an eco-friendly way by replacing the plastic handle with a naturally grown, biodegradable material like bamboo.
Today, the Plus Ultra bamboo toothbrushes she debuted in 2012 are sold in more than 320 retail stores in 22 states, including Whole Foods and Amazon.
“Just like plastic straws, we use toothbrushes several times a day. Just like straws, they end up in landfills and oceans and we don’t think about their harmful impact,” said Ramirez.
What is the Goal
So while the world’s attention is on the perils of plastic straws, she wants toothbrushes to quickly become the other shoe to drop in the race to curb the buildup of millions of tons of global plastic waste.
The Sherman Oaks, California-based business has sold hundreds of thousands of bamboo toothbrushes in the United States (she won’t provide the specific number for competitive reasons).
Estimates are that purchases have helped keep at least 1,000 tons of plastic waste from entering landfills and oceans.
According to the advocacy group Plastic Pollution Coalition, consumers on average will use 300 toothbrushes during their lifetime. Each of us will also throw away about 12 pounds of plastic toothbrushes in that time.
The Plus Ultra bamboo toothbrush isn’t recyclable, either like plastic, because bamboo can’t be recycled, said Ramirez.
“[However], overall it is 99% biodegradable, with the exception of the dentist recommended nylon bristles and metal staples,” said Ramirez, 33, who added that the bamboo handle is also compostable. “Our toothbrush still has to be effective. We value high performing products, as well as the environment.”
How Did Plus Ultra Come to Be
In 2011, Ramirez took $3,000 from her 401(K) plan and flew to China to meet with manufacturers. Once she locked in her supplier, she pitched her bamboo toothbrush to Whole Foods the following year.
“I was already a Whole Foods employee and customer and now I wanted to become a vendor, too” she said.
Whole Foods signed on.
In the first three years, she supplied Plus Ultra toothbrushes (priced between $3.99 to $7 each at retail) to over thirty Whole Foods stores in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. She’s up to fifty-five stores now and expects to exponentially grow her distribution to Whole Foods stores nationwide by next year.
Her startup, which has three full-time and three part-time employees, is profitable and generates between $1 – $2 million in sales a year.
Toothbrushes are the tip of her bamboo lifestyle brand.
Ramirez wants to expand to other products found in the bathroom.
“We’re developing bamboo travel covers for toothbrushes so you don’t have to use the plastic one,” she said. Razors made with bamboo handles is another idea. In five years, I’d love for us to be even bigger with a full collection of eco-friendly products that give consumers an affordable alternative to using plastic products,” she said.