Zero Waste Dental Care
Eliminating, substituting and reducing the waste from our twice-daily (or more) dental hygiene routine.
A few items that consistently appeared in my trash can was the waste from cleaning my teeth, which, because it’s done twice or more a day, can generate a surprisingly amount of trash without me even realising it.
Luckily, there are a number of options out there to alleviate this.
Eliminate & Substitute: DIY Toothpaste
For the enterprising DIY enthusiast, making your own toothpaste can be really fun! You can personalise it to your own taste and make big batches of it and even give them away as gifts!
There are plenty of recipes out there on Google, ranging from simple 3-ingredient mixtures to elaborate concoctions of fancy-schmancy stuff, but I ended up experimenting with ingredients that I already had lying around:
peppermint essential oil
cinnamon powder for taste
I tried it for a week but didn’t end up continuing with it - I couldn’t get used to brushing with powder, and the baking soda was too salty for my tongue. I also missed the foam that you get with manufactured toothpaste, and wanted fluoride to be a present ingredient.
(Note on Fluoride: In some countries, the public water is already fluoridated, so additional consumption of fluoride via toothpaste or any other means is not necessary. If your municipality provides adequately fluoridated tap water (that you presumably drink from), then DIY toothpaste will work for you. Several states in Malaysia do fluoridate tap water, but only up to 0.7mg/L at most, a little below 1 mg/L that’s prescribed for alleviating dental fluorisis. Source)
That being said, just because it didn’t work for me doesn’t mean it won’t for you! Pick a recipe you like, adjust it to your taste and see if making your own toothpaste is something up your alley.
3-ingredient recipe from Trash is For Tossers. Source
Recycle: Buy toothpaste with recyclable containers
Having failed the DIY toothpaste experiment, I went looking for packaging-free toothpaste, which unfortunately does not yet exist. The next best thing is to then purchase toothpaste in containers that can be recycled.
Toothpaste, Tooth Tabs, and Tooth Powders typically come in plastic and metal containers - do check to make sure those are recyclable. Lush also sells tooth tabs in paper packaging!
Tooth tabs in paper packaging!
For the conventional plastic tubes, you will need to clean it out before putting it in the recycling bin. Here’s how:
Squeeze out as much of the remaining toothpaste as possible.
Then, cut the neck off the top of the tube, and carefully cut a slit along the side.
Rinse out any remaining toothpaste with warm water and soap, and it’s ready to recycle in areas where toothpaste tubes are accepted.
Cleaning out a tube for recycling
I used to be the kind of person who bought and hoarded lots of toothbrushes, typically falling prey to those buy 2 free 1 type of ‘deals’ that only served to clutter up my bathroom. I was also (and still am) a fan of those teeny tiny travel toothbrushes, and am always collecting the ones I get for free on flights.
(I have reformed myself and stopped, but still have enough to last me for the next decade, I think.)
While my ability to accumulate toothbrushes were impressive, my ability to get rid of them in a more responsible way weren’t.
The issue with conventional toothbrushes is that they three different materials (nylon, metal and mixed plastic) that are fused together. While all three are recyclable, you first need to separate them and send each into their respective streams, which adds some complexity to the process that your recycler or your waste management service may not cater for.
The best solution?
Compost: Switch to compostable toothbrush
Toothbrushes made of bamboo are now on the market, and are claimed to be compostable, so all you need to do when you’re finished using it is to throw it into a compost bin. However, you’ll have to check on the bristles though - are they also made of compostable material (typically animal hair) or of plastic that should not go into a compost bin?
If the latter, you will have to take the extra step of removing the bristles from the bamboo and send each into their respective recycling or composting bins.
We also have the more traditional option of the Miswak, or ‘Kayu Sugi’, a teeth-cleaning twig that used to be very common back in the day (until plastics invaded our lives, basically). It is nothing new, has a long history of use and apparently has medicinal properties to boot! And being a twig, it is for sure compostable.
All natural twig toothbrush
Recycle: Buy recyclable toothbrushes
The next best option is to send your toothbrush for recycling, but this only applies if you’re in the US. Companies like Colgate and Preserve take back their toothbrushes and recycle them, and of course, there’s the ever reliable TerraCycle.
For the rest of us no residing in the US, what you can do is to opt for toothbrushes that come with a replaceable head to minimise the waste. So instead of tossing out the whole thing every few months, you’re only getting rid of the head and keeping the handle for reuse.
Not ideal, but better than worst
For those who prefer using electronic toothbrushes, the good news is that it is already designed with a replaceable head configuration. The bad news is that they are even more complicated to recycle, what with the combination of metal and plastic and batteries.
If you are thinking of making the switch to compostable toothbrushes, keep going for a relevant giveaway at the end!
Conventional floss are typically made of waxed nylon, are too small and stringy to be processed by recycling machines and come in casing made of mixed plastic materials, which makes them a big problem for us aiming to be zero-wasters.
Even worse are these:
Ugggghhh. Don't. Anything disposable, just don't.
These floss picks are made of 95% plastic and 5% actual floss (roughly speaking), all of which get tossed after literally one minute of use. Big no-no!
Compost: Switch to compostable floss
Compostable floss are made of silk and can be tossed into the compost bin after use. The one that the Hive sells come in paper packaging that can be easily recycled, and they also carry a glass and metal container for the floss itself, which is 100x more elegant than the gaudy plastic that typical floss come in!
So good looking
An alternative to buying compostable floss is to simple re-use any silk fabric you have lying around that you no longer need - simply fray that piece of cloth and extract the threads to use as floss.
Cleaning your teeth can be clean for the environment and landfill too - a few simple product switches, and maybe some flexing of DIY muscles can easily eliminate and reduce the waste that comes from keeping our dental hygiene intact.
Achievement Award: Eliminate altogether by making your own DIY toothpaste and switching to bamboo toothbrush and compostable silk floss!
Points For Effort: Buy toothpaste that come in recycleable packaging and clean it up before chucking into the recycle bin. If not that, then opt for toothbrushes with replaceable parts so you do’t have to throw the whole thing out.
Um, Maybe Not: Love your toothpaste and plastic toothbrush too much? That’s okay, continue as you do, and find some other waste to eliminate! Check out other recommendations here.