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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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  • Sue C. 2 days ago
    Good to know about dental floss. I didn't think it was recyclable and reusing the strands not only harbors bacteria like you brought out in this post; the strands usually start to shred if you overly use the strands or end up getting wedged in your teeth which I have encountered as well. I always use a glass of filtered water for rinsing my mouth after brushing and then using the leftover water from the glass to rinse off the toothbrush. I choose a more natural dental floss such as "Toms of Maine since it is better for your health and the environment.
  • Nancy R. 6 days ago
    We no longer let the water run while we're brushing.
  • Laura K. 6 days ago
    We once found a baby bird hanging upside down out of it's nest all tangled in floss ...luckily we found it in time to free it.
  • Beverly M. 6 days ago
    good ideas and heres one to give rid of the used floss. Hand on trees or bushes: the birds love to use it for building their nsts
  • Theresa H. 8 days ago
    I find if I "chew" on a tablespoon of coconut oil or other type of oil for 15 mins before brushing (when time permits) I do not have to floss as much.
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