Zero Waste Oral Care; why plastic matters and switches to make.
Reasons to ditch plastic dental products
Dental care products have a significant affect on the environment. Most traditional consumables (toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, and floss) are made with plastic that comes from crude oil. Oil companies destroy habitats to make way for extraction. While finished dental products are often found within ecosystems. Either they end up in landfills and affect Earth, or in the sea affecting marine life. This makes dental products a threat to nature, from more than one perspective.
Billions of toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss rolls are made every year from oil. BILLIONS. Estimates put the number of toothbrushes alone at between 3.7-4.3 billion. PER YEAR! These products (often) aren't recyclable or at least recycled easily. On top of this, each of these items will last for over 1000 years! Eventually, they'll break down into microplastics, which will infiltrate water systems and be unknowingly consumed by living things, including humans. Microplastics are already starting to be found in tap water, so an issue with contaminated water is not impending. It's an issue that already exists.
Toothpaste has further implications on water usage. The paste itself contains between 20-40% water, draining us of valuable water resource. Perhaps more concerning though, is that toothpaste can contain chemicals that shouldn't be consumed by humans and/or animals. These chemicals, like microplastics, end up in our water systems. For instance, the ingredient triclosan can be toxic to fish. Micro-beads, tiny abrasive plastic particles, are also still used by some brands of toothpaste, in countries where micro-beads aren't yet banned. This exacerbates the microplastic problem.
Floss is usually made with petroleum-based wax or synthetic plastics, that are a surprising source of chemical exposure. These plastics often have high toxicity concerns and have been found in human bloodstreams. FYI, they don't belong there.
So... We have issues with oil extraction, habitat loss, landfill waste, plastic pollution, unnecessary water usage, water contamination, and chemical exposure. That’s a heck of a carbon footprint, especially for such a "throwaway" consumable item. If using zero/low waste dental products became the norm, the carbon footprint of the consumer based dental industry would significantly decrease!
Sustainable alternatives do exist!
Bamboo is a very sustainable material, it grows FAST! It’s actually the fastest growing plant on earth, and can grow up to 91cm per day! Bamboo is also strong, durable, needs little fertilizer, can self regenerate (meaning it doesn’t need replanting after every harvest) and requires no pesticides. Because bamboo is also lightweight, the carbon footprint for transportation is lower than many other materials, say... Oil. However, bamboo toothbrushes aren't without their issues.
- Bamboo growing can be unsustainable. Bamboo, like other resources, requires farming. Bamboo becomes unsustainable when land is cleared of natural growth and cultivated as a mono-crop. Ultimately, this destroys natural ecosystems and can impact biodiversity. When purchasing a bamboo toothbrush try to find out how the bamboo was sourced.
- Bamboo toothbrushes aren't always zero waste AND cruelty-free. The material used for toothbrush bristles vary. The bristles often aren't sustainable, being made from either pig's hair (not cruelty-free) or some form of plastic, usually nylon. Any synthetic bristles need to be removed from the handle before it can be recycled.
- Not all bamboo toothbrushes have eco-friendly packaging. It seems absurd, but plastic wrapped bamboo toothbrushes do exist.
- Finally, look for a reputable brand with professional approval. Very cheap bamboo toothbrushes crop up on the internet, but their ability to protect teeth without damaging them is unproven.
Buying dental tablets in either package free form or in a biodegradable packaging is a more eco-friendly option than toothpaste. As these are dried tablets, they remove any water usage from their production!
Things to be aware of:
1. Not all dental tabs will foam like traditional toothpaste. Some may also have a chalky texture. It may take a while to transition and get used to this.
2. Most dental tabs are made from natural ingredients, but give the ingredients list a little check to make sure. The ingredients should be basic and recognisable. If there's anything you're not sure about, google it.
Natural Dental Floss
Good news, eco-friendly dental floss exists! These alternatives are often made from plant-based materials such as bamboo (yay!) or synthetic silks. They usually come in eco-friendly packaging, but as with toothbrushes, can come in plastic (boo!). Another issue to be wary of is that floss made from silk. Silk is produced using silkworms, so despite some brands listing their floss as vegan, they aren't.
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