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. In which case, there are several options. Only, I need to come clean about the fact that I am not sure which of these is the greenest. So, I’ll list them here and then give you my best guess.

1. A biodegradable bamboo toothbrush, of which there are many different brands. There is a bamboo brush for every mouth, but my personal favourite is Humble Brush. As well as being good to use, it’s available in adult and child sizes and comes in a compostable wrapper and a box made from recycled cardboard.  It’s available in some branches of Waitrose or Holland and Barratt, or order online.

Otherwise, there are many types of bamboo toothbrushes on the market –  google is your friend here. (Just be wary of brands claiming their bristles are biodegradable).

(Two things to note: the toothbrush won’t decompose if it’s put in the general waste bin. It should go to the compost pile or food waste collection, if it is ever to be returned to Mother Earth. Also, make sure you rinse and dry it when you’ve finished using it. A wet bamboo brush will do what it is designed to do, which is, to rot.)

2. Its possible to get conventional toothbrushes with replaceable heads.  Source make theirs from recycled materials, or Yaweco  do them for a lower price. Both of these are available in health food stores or online.

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

So which is the the most environmentally friendly option? It’s hard to say, as there doesn’t seem to be much research comparing them all. Intuitively, it seems as if it should be the one made from bamboo – its made from a renewable source, and since it biodegrades, certainly feels the greenest. Only, most of the environmental impacts of the things we use take place earlier in a product’s lifecycle, as the raw materials are being extracted and the product is manufactured and transported. A bamboo toothbrush will have to be manufactured and shipped over and over again, and I am not 100% sure whether bamboo is always sustainably grown. The conventional toothbrush with a replaceable head will possibly have fewer upstream impacts as the part to be manufactured is much smaller. And how all this compares to the impacts of the recycled toothbrush? I honestly don’t know. So in the absence of any more concrete information you may want to choose whichever is most convenient and affordable for you.

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’m not sure these are good for your teeth – many of these don’t contain fluoride, and my dentist warns against brushing your teeth with bicarb on a regular basis. 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.

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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10 Easy Ways to Dramatically Slim Your Bin

Depressed by how much you throw away? Follow these 10 steps to shed unsightly waste.


  1. Ditch the paper towel habit

Nothing fills your bin faster than cleaning up with paper towels. Forests were cut down for this, and quitting is easy. Cloths, rags or reusable kitchen roll will do the job and they don’t have to be re-bought and schlepped home from the supermarket every week.

For a super skinny bin: Swap paper tissues for hankies (or, kindest on the nose, old t-shirts cut up into squares) and exchange your foam washing-up sponge for a reusable unsponge or biodegradable one.

2. Boycott superfluous sachets

Porridge in single-use pots, coffee pods, cubes of washing powder in individual plastic packets…..have these people never heard of spoons? And the cost! A recent survey* found that porridge oats in superfluous sachets costs between 4 and 10 times the price of the same bought loose or in a simple cardboard box. Someone is having a laugh. Let us reclaim our right to decide our own portion sizes.

3. Wash with……soap and water

Wet wipes can be really useful when outdooors without easy access to running water. When indoors, however, their utility is less clear. Packets of these things also take up storage space and have to be continually re-bought. If you use wipes to remove make up, using coconut oil and a washcloth will leave your skin feeling soft and lovely and also save you cash. If you use wipes to clean the house, a rag or a cloth with the eco-friendly cleaner of your choice will do the job, and costs less. Single-use baby wipes can be replaced with reusable ones  or use cut up towels (wet them before you leave the house and carry in a waterproof bag).

We are SO lucky to have easy access to clean water – let’s use it.

For a super skinny bin: You can also swap cotton wool pads for reusables and plastic cotton wool buds for biodegradable ones.

4. Get your milk and juice delivered

Rinse and return. It’s the zero waster’s dream. See that mountain of plastic cartons disappear from your life, and you don’t even have to wash the bottles yourself. If it comes in an electric van, even better.

These people do cow’s milk and a range of fruit juices in returnable bottles, or see what’s available local to you.

There’s also this map of places where you can get milk directly from farmers, many of which will allow you to refill your own bottles.

5. Beware the fruit and veg danger zone 

The fruit and veg aisle of your local supermarket is nothing less than waste central. Multipacks containing more than we can eat, all wrapped in voluminous plastic. Pointless stickers and, as you’ve probably heard by now,  mountains of fruit and veg are thrown away for failing to pass a beauty contest.

Enough is enough. The fightback against food waste and fruit fascism starts here.

1. Buy only what your household will eat. 2. Buy fruit and veg loose in your own reusable produce bags. 3. Learn to love fruit and veg in weird shapes, and support shops that sell them (which includes some supermarkets). 4. Remember that chopped fruit in plastic tubs with single-use cutlery is an enviro-crime. Refuse to be complicit.

6. Check out your local packaging-free store

These are a great initiative that deals with two issues in one smooth move: the massive problem of food waste, and the troublesome volumes of single-use packaging waste that no-one seems to know what to do with. You can buy just what you need, and no more, and no-one will try to sell  you multipacks or BOGOFs.

Single-use packaging can be a real bin-fattener, and as Bea Johnson puts it, paying for this is just investing in landfill – all we are really doing is buying poor quality bags and containers over and over again, and paying to have them all disposed of over and over again. So see if there is anywhere local to you where you can take your own bags and buy goods loose – new places are opening up all the time.

7. Say goodbye to tampons

Why continually to buy these and throw them away,  buy and throw away,  for years, when a menstrual cup can be bought just once and will save you £££s?  According to Mooncup, it pays for itself in 6-8 months. Available in pretty designs, what’s not to love about it?  And reusable pads are available everywhere.

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8. Detergent Refills

See what’s available in your local health food store. If you shop in a major town, there will be somewhere that offers refills of washing-up liquid, laundry liquid and fabric conditioner.  Or order refills online via Splosh.

For a super-skinny bin: Keep an eye out for places that refill other products, such as wine, olive oil and shampoo.

9. Just say no to crap

Don’t allow rubbish into your world in the first place. You are worth more than this. Leaflets and brochures you know you’ll never read, novelty pens, ugly merchandise you only accepted because it was free, the cheap-but-not-designed-to-last fashion accessory – our earth is being polluted and factory workers exploited so we can fill our lives with junk. Just say no.

10. Use the bin as a last resort

Only throw away what cannot be reused, donated, recycled or composted. And remember, recycling is for life, not just when you happen to be in the kitchen. So keep recycling bins in every place you currently have a waste bin (including at work). Eventually you will free your space of waste bins altogether.

* I made notes as I was going round the shops: 20p for 100g loose oats in my own bag from the health food store, 22p for the same in a recyclable cardboard box from the supermarket, 74.7p in non-recyclable sachets, and a full £1.91 for 100g porridge in a carton designed to be used once then sent to landfill.

About My Rubbish

IMG_1733.JPGSo I haven’t had a waste bin for two and a half years. This is easier than you think. I do this by cutting out single-use disposables, packaging, and by refusing to allow rubbish into my life in the first place.

Anything that can’t be reused, recycled or composted I keep in my landfill tin to keep track of it. This I empty every few months. It mostly contains fruit stickers, non-compostable cellophane wrapping,  chocolate wrappers and those little clear plastic seals from jars. Currently it also has a mascara wand and some out of date medicine.

I should say that I don’t include absolutely every last piece of waste in the tin. I don’t save every non-biodegradable teabag from social visits, for example.  I also made the decision not to include larger stuff that breaks and can’t be repaired, mainly because it’s just too annoying to keep those bits around the place. I don’t want broken umbrellas and knackered bike parts cluttering up my cupboards. There are good people in the world working towards a circular economy, but until then, the tidiest place for these rejects from the linear one is in the landfill.

Although it’s fashionable in zero waste circles to store one’s rubbish in a large kilner-style jar, I have resisted the temptation to buy something shiny and new. It feels more in keeping with the spirit of zero waste to repurpose this quite charming hot chocolate tin, and anyway, it’s refuse – it doesn’t require glamour.