By Dan Bennett, Senior Behavioural Strategist
Until recently I’ve always had a suspicion around those who opted for a toothbrush with a bamboo handle.
Now, I have no qualms with accepting we are overusing our planets resources, and I’m not anti-Attenborough when it comes to plastics… but changing from a plastic toothbrush to a bamboo one seemed to me an almost pointless behaviour.
Why would you aim to reduce usage of a tiny piece of plastic that you replace just four times a year, when there are daily and weekly wasting behaviours that remain untouched.
It stunk of virtue signalling and not enough of meaningful action.
Until I got one.
Whilst working on a sustainability project I accidentally offended somebody who owned a bamboo toothbrush and so to equalise that guilt I bought a set of them, and something very interesting happened.
What happened reminded me of the research around the Confirmation Bias. We all have an innate tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs. So a great welcome at a hotel means you search for positives in the rest of the experience, “aren’t the rooms nice” “the bars are great” “I don’t mind the remote location”. Arrive at the hotel with a queue and a query around your booking and your Confirmation Bias leads you to interpret the world with a red mist, “the room is nowhere near the lift” “the bar is too noisy” “there’s nothing interesting near the hotel”.
The same goes for guiding our behaviour. If you make your bed in the morning, you might continue the day being more organised; start the day with a healthy breakfast and healthier decision making may follow. We like to be consistent with our actions and beliefs, especially those that are top of mind.
So with my new bamboo toothbrush, it’s not only a virtue signal to others (I don’t leave it hidden in a cabinet when guests comes round … and I’m even writing a blog about it) it’s also a reminder to myself to be consistent with pro-planet choices throughout the day. It even sounded unlikely and unbelievable writing that, but the effects have been powerful. Turning off light switches, boiling the right amount of water in the kettle – the willpower is there to go those extra miles.
So yes, buying a toothbrush might save 4 sticks of plastic a year from going to waste, but the very real secondary effects of their usage, I suspect, is much, much more.