Case Study

A toothbrush from used cooking oil? Done. What’s next?

Manufacturing has suddenly become much more exciting as surging consumer appetite for environment-friendly products spurs innovation. Among the most luminous developments is the creation of plastics and chemicals from fossil fuel alternatives.

17 March 2023 | Timer icon 4 minutes read | Share case study: LinkedIn logo Email icon

For one customer of IMCD’s Advanced Materials business, that innovation takes the form of a toothbrush. Except, unlike the toothbrushes most people use every day, this one is made from biobased materials. In line with the growing market for sustainable lifestyles, the customer wanted to develop a low-carbon product with high bio-circularity in the healthcare industry.

Could we suggest a material to replace traditional fossil fuel-based plastics while delivering similar performance? Our solution would need to have similar quality, purity, mechanical and organoleptic properties as compared to current plastics polymers. It would also need to match existing regulatory requirements and biocompatibility conditions and avoid the need for regulatory re-assessments and validation.

Giving virgin plastics the brush off

Most commercially available toothbrushes are made entirely or largely from synthetic materials. Many have nylon bristles and plastics handles made from materials such as polypropylene or thermoplastics elastomers. Such materials are typically not recyclable, hard to recycle with different processes, or simply aren’t brought to recycling points. As a result, far too many of them make it to landfill or into the ocean, where they can take hundreds of years to degrade.

But as more and more plastics is produced – 400 million tonnes[1] a year according to the UN – finding ways to lower its environmental impact is now becoming an urgent issue. Key to resolving the issue is to use as little virgin plastics as possible. At the same time, it’s important to adopt a circular economy approach to all plastics produced, by considering it a resource rather than waste.

Responsible manufacturers have therefore begun to rethink their approach. They now want materials that offer the same convenience, versatility, and affordability as commonly used plastics – while regulatory requirements of the medical and healthcare industry are met and delivering better sustainability outcomes.

IMCD’s sustainable solutions

We work in close collaboration with our partners offering our expertise in innovating sustainable products for medical use.

Our bioplastics materials support the mass balance approach, helping companies switch to using sustainable feedstocks in small increments without the need to set up separate assembly lines for sustainable products.

IMCD Germany, Benelux, Sweden and France are certified according to ISCC PLUS (International Sustainability & Carbon Certification). ISCC Plus is the world's top certification for sustainable raw materials and recycled materials in the chemical industry. Customers trust that IMCD can offer materials made from renewable and eco-friendly sources.

From used cooking oil to toothbrush

Renewably sourced polymers are part of IMCD’s portfolio. These circular polyolefin products are manufactured with renewable feedstocks and offer the same material performance as virgin polyolefins but are decoupled from fossil-based feedstock.

These innovative products are being used in various industries and are well suited to healthcare applications. Did we have one that could be turned into a toothbrush? And if so, could our supplier provide it in the quantities required?

The team considered several options from our network of producers. One, drop-in circular polypropylene, was particularly promising. It is derived from a range of second-generation renewable sources, such as used cooking oil collected from the food industry and restaurants; from non-food-crops, or from the waste and residues of vegetable oil refining.

As is so often the case in a business where connections and networking are key to creating opportunities, we succeeded by teaming up with our customers and principals, knowing our products and understanding the particular needs of the medical and healthcare field, and always staying consistent and dependable.

Putting our best brush forward

Soon after the inquiry came in, we had developed a proof of concept. The prototype showed that renewable source polymers can be a material solution for medical and healthcare applications.

For the customer, the solution helps significantly reduce the carbon footprint of its businesses as compared to materials using fossil fuels. In addition to reducing its dependence on non-renewable resources, the manufacturer can now take another step towards the circular economy.

But the benefits of biobased polymers extend beyond one company. Not only can we now have toothbrushes made from biobased materials, but the technique can also be rolled out to future-generation products across plastics-intensive manufacturing industries.

“The new bio-circular material solution is a crucial leap towards a circular economy. It’s an innovation that screams to be amplified through replication and dissemination,” says Steffen Müller, AM Germany – Business Development Manager Healthcare at IMCD Germany.

Challenge us to re-imagine solutions

IMCD has nearly 30 years’ expertise in solving problems around product formulation, materials supplies and production processes. Thanks to our smart people, wide range of products, and deep technical knowledge, we create new opportunities for manufacturers and producers to create revolutionary new products.

Find out how our Advanced Materials team can improve the environmental credentials of your products. Reach out to us today!



1. Plastic Pollution - (Updated in April 2022) - Our World in Data

Jana Zietzling
Jana Zietzling

Head of Product Management Medical, Advanced Materials
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