We all know the importance of good oral hygiene, but what impact does it have on the planet? This week we’re focusing on the environmental toll of traditional dental products and offering solutions for how to green your routine.
In recent years, there’s been a big global focus on the impact of plastic straws—but a new conversation is starting; and this time it’s about toothbrushes. Our oral care products and routines are a serious problem for the planet. The millions of toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, floss, floss containers, and bottles of mouthwash that we purchase each year create mountains of plastic waste that takes decades, or even centuries, to decay.
One billion plastic toothbrushes are thrown away each year in the US, creating 50 million pounds of waste.
American Dental Association
Each year, Americans buy over 3 million miles of dental floss made from waxed nylon that takes up to 200 years to decompose.
Washington Center for Dentistry
Most toothpaste tubes are impossible to recycle through conventional methods. As a result, over 25 billion toothpaste tubes are landfilled or are not managed properly.
Environmental Protection Agency
Imagine the impact of millions of households switching to a more sustainable alternative. Mountains of plastic would be diverted from our landfills. Whereas plastic toothbrushes create a major pollution problem, bamboo toothbrushes with sustainably-sourced bamboo handles turn to compost in around six months. But wait! Even if your old toothbrush is too worn out to brush those pearly whites; it still has a lot of life left in it.
Old toothbrushes are great for reuse around the house!
Even worse, studies show some common brands of floss contain harmful chemical coatings linked to cancer and heart disease. And what about that tiny plastic box? Since floss containers are typically too small to recycle upon arrival at a materials recovery facility (MRF), they’re destined for landfills where they’ll take up to 1,000 years to break down. Ready for a simple swap? Go 100% plastic-free and try bamboo floss in a refillable metal container. After you’re finished flossing, skip the trash can—this floss is fully compostable. Plus, the refills come in a 100% compostable recycled paperboard box.
Many folks assume they are recyclable, but looks are deceiving. Although toothpaste tubes appear to be just a soft, flexible plastic container, they are actually a mixed-material product embedded with an inner layer of aluminum foil to keep the toothpaste from spoiling and drying out. This results in a container that is extremely challenging and costly to recycle as it can’t be recycled with other plastics at the MRF. In order to be properly recycled, it has to be separated by hand at the end of its product life cycle, which limits the likelihood of it being recycled. Ready to ditch those troublesome tubes? Zero-waste alternatives to traditional toothpaste are now available as tablets, hygienically packaged in a compostable pouch.
If you’re ready to pivot to a sustainable alternative, there are a couple of options out there. If you have access to a refillery shop, ask for mouthwash on tap. Or keep it simple and fill your container with 3% hydrogen peroxide to use as a mouth rinse (gargle tips). Mouthwash tablets are another eco-friendly option emerging on the market, and we’re looking forward to finding one that does more than freshen breath.
Now that we’ve discussed the impact of traditional oral care products, let’s shine the spotlight on our brushing routine for a minute. The American Dental Association (ADA) encourages brushing for two minutes, twice per day for good oral hygiene, but leaving the water running while brushing your teeth consumes up to four gallons of fresh water with every brushing—That adds up to nearly 3000 gallons of water usage per person each year. By simply getting into the habit of turning off the faucet while brushing, we can each conserve thousands of gallons of water a year (and save $$$ on our water bill).
There you have it! Some sustainable shifts to green your oral care routine. As usual, we love following along with you on your low-waste living journey, so let us know how it is going (and don’t forget to #shareyourshift to inspire others). Every shift counts!