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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: What’s the Greenest Way to Floss?

By Recyclebank |
We all want to keep our teeth and gums healthy, but not all oral care products are ideal for the environment. Learn more about your flossing options.

Dear Recyclebank: Dental floss has no chance of being recycled. What is a healthy and green way to floss? Water pick? Wooden toothpick? –E. M.

Dear E. M.: Floss does pose a conundrum to those of us who want to minimize waste. Both the packaging of most floss, and the floss itself, are made of a combination of mixed materials in forms that are too small to be processed by recycling machinery. Additionally, floss filament gets tangled in the machinery at recycling facilities (MRFs), which slows down the recycling process of other materials. You may be tempted to resuse your floss in order to conserve, but the strategy of reusing floss is no good here because you don’t want to reintroduce bacteria and plaque that you’ve just removed, and germs can stay trapped in the floss fibers, especially as they fray. The American Dental Association directly cautions against reusing floss.

No matter the method, flossing will create some amount of waste, so what options do we have to reduce our footprint? Let’s discuss alternatives to traditional floss:
Most of the dental floss on the market is made from nylon coated in wax, but you can also find floss made from silk, which is biodegradable and can be composted; try RADIUS. You can also minimize one part of floss waste by buying floss that is not packaged in the typical plastic box, which has a metal component that makes it a mixed material and therefore not recyclable.

In general, you should avoid floss picks, as the plastic in the pick itself more than outweighs the amount of floss they might save, and they also present the same reuse problem discussed above. If you’re heart is set on them, try to find a biodegradable option.

Wooden toothpicks can also be composted, but keep in mind that they tend to be less effective at cleaning deeply between your teeth than floss would be. You’ll likely want to reserve wooden toothpicks for removing pieces of food, rather than intensive teeth cleaning.

Oral irrigators (also known as water picks) are handheld tools, similar in shape to an electric toothbrush, that direct jets of water toward the hard-to-reach places in your mouth that dental floss would ordinarily target. These devices use water and electricity, and there’s not yet enough research to determine whether that makes for an overall energy and resource savings over floss. However, oral irrigators are reusable and can last for a long time.

SOURCES: American Dental Association, Grist

How have you “greened” your oral care routine? Let us know in the comments.
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  • Gina L. 3 months ago
    Try using your used floss to tie up small things like plants, esp in gardens. I bet there are lots of ways to reuse floss once cleaned.
  • Patricia D. 5 months ago
    Thank you for the suggestion of Radius!
  • Christine G. 6 months ago
    Waterpik instead of floss
  • Mary S. 7 months ago
    I have not used dental floss for at least fifteen years and have a totally different approach to cleaning between my teeth. I first thoroughly brush my teeth (without letting the water run in the sink), then rinse my mouth with water, then use an inter-dental brush to clean the spaces between my teeth. They look like miniature bottle brushes and are found right next to the dental floss and tooth brushes, and they come with their own little plastic caps. I put a small amount of toothpaste on one finger, dip the brush into it, and brush between two teeth. I repeat the process until my entire mouth is cleaned and then rinse well with water, swishing the water around in my mouth and between my teeth. I then rinse the inter-dental brush well, replace its plastic cap, and put it with my toothbrush so it's ready for the next use. I replace the mini-brush on the first of every month. I have dental check-ups every six months, and my dentist remarks that my mouth and gums are extremely healthy. I might add that my gums NEVER bleed.
    • tracey d. 3 months ago
      Mary, I will try this! I detest flossing as it hurts my gums. Thanks! :)
    • Mary S. 3 months ago
      You are very welcome! Once you get the hang of it, you'll be amazed at how quickly you can do this, and at how clean and fresh your mouth will feel :)
  • Stephanie F. 7 months ago
    Laura K. so glad I read your post! I actually considered posting using dental floss to help encourage birds to make nests. I know when you get your hair cut they said to sprinkle it outside for the birds to use and I've heard of yarn scraps. You raised a good point (and now a good little baby bird) that it moreso could pose dangers to our wildlife and isn't that also what recycling is supposed to be all about, saving our earth and our inhabitants!
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