Zero Waste Teeth


The first toothbrush you ever had still exists somewhere in landfill, and will still be there when your great-great-grandchildren are teething. You probably want to see an end to this.

There are several products on the market that claim to be environmentally friendly options, but as I haven’t been able to find any research comparing them, it makes it difficult to say which is the best. So I’m just giving it my best guess.

Reusable toothbrushes with replaceable heads.  Source make theirs from recycled materials, or Yaweco make theirs with solar power and are cheaper. This is what I use, and it’s great. Both of these are available in health food stores or online.

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Toothbrushes made from recycled yoghurt pots. You can even send your used toothbrushes back to the company in the US for closed loop recycling.

Biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes. These are popular with zero wasters, however, the more I think about, it the less I am sure that this is better than the conventional toothbrush with the replaceable head. This is because:

a) bamboo toothbrushes are not designed to last. They will therefore need to be continually re manufactured and shipped, with all the associated environmental impacts of that. The toothbrush with the replaceable head is designed to be reused.

b) there is not enough information available about the way that the bamboo is grown to be able to say for sure that it is sustainable. How do we know that forests are not being cleared to meet the growing demand for bamboo products? How does growing lots of bamboo impact biodiversity and food production? There are many questions that would need to be answered before we could conclude that they are sustainable.

c) if biodegradable toothbrushes end up in landfill, they will give off greenhouse gases for years.

d) bamboo toothbrushes need extra equipment to be used – ie pliers to remove the bristles when you have finished with them. If you already have some about the place, then fine, but if you need to buy extra things for the sole purpose of disposing of bamboo toothbrushes, then this will add to the impact.

e) they are more expensive than buying replacement heads for the reusable toothbrush.

I can’t be 100% certain about this, because, as I say, I can’t seem to find any research comparing the impacts of different toothbrushes. If anyone knows of any lifecycle assessments on this, please do write in. Otherwise, I’m offering my best guess.

Toothpaste

Sigh. I still haven’t found a tooth-friendly solution to the problem of toothpaste tubes. There are a number of ideas popular with zero wasters, such as toothpaste in glass jars or recipes made with bicarbonate of soda. However, I don’t feel able to recommend any of these because:

a) I am not convinced that these are good for your teeth – my dentist warns against brushing your teeth every day with bicarb, or using toothpastes that don’t contain fluoride.

b) it’s not clear that these products are necessarily better for the environment. How is a jar more sustainable than a toothpaste tube? And what about the impact of the ingredients?

You may want to check out Kingfisher Toothpaste, as this received a high score on the Ethical Consumer Guide and is approved by the British Dental Health Foundation.  Personally I’m not willing to risk tooth decay in order to prevent a relatively small amount of waste.

Dental Floss

First, is it worth bothering about such a tiddly piece of waste?

Some people worry about animals or birds being strangled by waste pieces of floss (although I’m not sure how likely this is to happen if you dispose of it properly in a bin). You might also want to find a zero waste alternative if you’ve given up your waste bin and have no wish to hang on to pieces of used floss in a jar. Or maybe zero wasters are just perfectionists.

Whatever your reason, here are your options:

Dental Lace, comes in refillable capsules containing silk floss coated in vegetable-based wax. The packaging is designed to look good if you are carrying it with you.

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For vegans, EcoDent  do standard floss in cardboard packaging, which can at least be recycled.

For interdental brushes, your plastic-free option are these by Dent-O-Care.

Otherwise, if sourcing zero waste floss seems like too much hassle, don’t worry. It’s just dental floss.

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4 thoughts on “Zero Waste Teeth

  1. Ryan

    You have some great info and good advice on your site but this article is full of conflicting messages…
    How is ‘disposing of properly in a bin’ going to prevent dental floss from going to landfill? The point is surely to not use it in the first place.

    Tooth cleaning options are really plentiful… There are loads of suggestions online. And whilst bicarb may be abrasive, you don’t need much and there are other natural ingredients and oils you can mix with it to get a clean mouth and teeth, rather than just buying a tube of toothpaste.

    Just feel you haven’t lived up to your name with this article… “The zero waster”?

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  4. uselessbags

    Yes, I think it is horrible to think all the toothbrushes we have ever used are still sitting there :/. I will certainly be buying bamboo for my next brush as I’m trying to go packaging free and reduce my waste. I was wondering how it would be when it comes down to buying new toothpaste, thanks for the heads up! (I also liked your round up of the latest good news, we need more of this!) Thanks, Beth

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