My dentist assures me that by looking at my teeth she can tell I floss regularly. I don’t know if it really is that obvious but it’s true that I do floss daily. As I’m trying to go zero waste whenever possible, I switched to a sustainable flossing alternative a while ago and my dentist hasn’t noticed any difference.
Regular floss is made from nylon thread, which is basically a type of plastic that is made from petroleum, one of the most polluting fossil fuels.
Not only that but floss is usually packaged in a small plastic container that itself is usually packaged in plastic. It really is one of the least environmentally friendly bathroom products you could find.
We all know that fossil fuels are the leading cause of climate change and that plastic pollution is degrading every aspect of our environment. So it’s time to switch to eco-friendly dental floss.
What Makes Floss Sustainable?
There are several aspects to sustainable floss:
- Biodegradable eco floss – The most common alternatives to nylon floss are silk, corn or bamboo fiber that is coated with either candelilla wax or beeswax, all of which are biodegradable.
- Reusable or recyclable containers – Refillable, plastic-free containers or holders save resources and limit waste. Refillable floss containers are usually made from glass, aluminium or stainless steel and sometimes from bamboo.
- Zero waste packaging – Cardboard packaging is a sustainable alternative to plastic that is recyclable and compostable.
- Carbon neutral – Look for companies that are certified carbon neutral to help limit greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon neutral means they take action to reduce their emissions and then offset the rest through programs like tree planting.
Based on these criteria, I recommend the following dental floss.
Top PickMe Mother Earth*
Having tried and researched several different types of eco-friendly floss, I recommend floss from Me Mother Earth above all others.
Firstly, the floss is made using only 3 ingredients, bamboo fiber, vegan candelilla wax and peppermint essential oil.
You can choose from a glass, stainless steel or bamboo refillable container.
The packaging is zero waste cardboard that is recyclable or compostable.
10% of profits are donated to environmental conservation.
Me Mother Earth is a small business based in Las Vegas. They don’t claim to be carbon neutral but they do purchase some carbon offsets (they should be more transparent regarding what this means).
Biodegradable Floss Picks
The problem with biodegradable floss picks is that they can’t be composted at home.
So-called ‘sustainable flossers’ are often made using bamboo or cornstarch with PLA, a type of bioplastic.
Products with PLA need to be disposed of in a commercial composting facility, not in your home compost. This kind of facility may not be available to everyone and delivering the waste to the facility would generate greenhouse gas emissions.
These kinds of picks will not decompose in landfill where they can be picked up by seabirds and ingested.
The only good thing about PLA is that it’s derived from plants and not fossil fuels like regular plastic.
So this is a better alternative to plastic but I wouldn’t necessarily call it sustainable. Although this could change with improved access to composting facilities.
Hopefully, more sustainable dental floss products will come out in the future as some people find these flossers to be easier to use than floss fibers.
Vegan Dental Floss
The most popular eco-friendly floss (TreeBird Eco Floss*) is made from silk and some other brands coat the floss in beeswax. These may be plant-based but obviously aren’t vegan.
But there are some vegan dental floss options, like my top pick mentioned above.
These are typically made using bamboo or corn fiber and then coated with candelilla wax. This is a plant-based wax derived from a shrub grown primarily in northern Mexico and the southwest of the United States.
Vegan floss is also a good alternative for those who are allergic to beeswax.
This guide is part of our series on sustainable dental care and ethical consumerism. Dental health is important in overall health and therefore dental hygiene products are considered essential consumption. Please purchase sustainable products where possible to reduce your environmental impact.
Get Involved: Promote Sustainability in Dental Health
Dental health is a huge industry that must take responsibility for its negative environmental impact and transition towards sustainability.
As an individual, you can help promote sustainability by discussing your concerns about single-use plastic with your dentist. You can encourage them to switch to zero waste alternatives and ask them to discuss these options with their patients.
As well as using sustainable products yourself, you can talk about different options and the benefits with your friends and family. You could even purchase some floss for them to encourage them to try it.
To see real change in the industry, contact your elected representative and discuss the waste and pollution caused by plastic toothbrushes, toothpaste, nylon floss and plastic packaging.
Encourage them to get these products labelled as single-use plastic that should be banned along with other single-use plastics.
Stewart, L. G., Lavers, J. L., Grant, M. L., Puskic, P. S., & Bond, A. L. (2020). Seasonal ingestion of anthropogenic debris in an urban population of gulls. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 160, 111549.