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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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  • Diana R. 17 days ago
    I never thought about this small item in terms of recycling. Thanks for the suggestion on using a water pik instead.
  • Lynne H. 23 days ago
    Please do NOT throw away your mascara wands. Instead, clean JUST THE WAND with dawn soap, place them in a ziploc bag and mail them to a Wildlife Refuge accepting donations. These little wands are able to be upcycled to clean away oil, larvae, fly eggs, mites, infections, mud and other contaminants from wildlife. Works great for medical care and wound treatment

    Pick your refuge to mail to:

    Appalachian Wild
    P.O. Box 1211
    Skyland NC 28776


    Wildlife Wands
    P.O. Box 1586
    Southwick, MA 01077.
  • Carolyn R. 3 months ago
    Water flossing alone is great unless you already have gingivitis. In that case, string flossing and water flossing achieve the best results, especially if you have crowns or bridge work. (I have one bridge and all my molars are crowned. It's not from lack of care, but results from genetics and aging. Everything wears out eventually. It's part of life.) Thanks for info about alternative types of floss. I will definitely check out Woo Bamboo.
  • Elizabeth B. 4 months ago
    I am a dental floss "geek" but I recently stopped buying my favorite brand because I couldn't justify creating hundreds, thousands of little pieces of plastic thread with nowhere to go. I switched to silk - from WooBamboo in my case - and will be TerraCycling the minimal plastic dispenser until I come up with a better solution. I feel a bit like Macgyver - I could hem a pair of pants with my trusty silk dental floss!

    Although I currently do all three, I would choose flossing over water-picking or brushing alone any day! My elderly dad thought he could substitute water-picking for flossing, and ended up with several decayed teeth requiring implants (yes he read the instructions)! Just don't get complacent...

    TIP: Save one of the big wide caps to use on subsequent tubes of toothpaste. You can stand it on its head more easily, and that helps get the last of the paste out on your brush where it'll do some good!
    • Sandy K. 7 days ago
      You could also just cut the bottom off of the tube & scrap your toothbrush around the inside. You get a lot more out that way.
  • Daniel N. 6 months ago
    Actually, the BEST way to floss and have NO recycling at all is to use a water flosser that works much better than string floss, is healthier for your gums, is more effective than string flossing, is more sanitary than string flossing, and now they are so inexpensive, they are in the price range of virtually everyone!! I have used a WaterPik for a number of years and even my dentist has now changed to a WaterPik for his own personal use. You can get them for as little as $20 at WalMart, Target, etc... It uses only warm water and gets so much more out of your teeth and gums you are silly not to try. Just remember to READ the INSTRUCTION MANUAL and follow their guidelines to start out low and work up because if you haven't flossed as much as you should have you will find your gums are much more sensitive than you think. Once you get used to the feeling and your gums are used to it (about 1-2 weeks) you will feel like you NEED to floss, it is that easy and effective!! TRY IT OUT! Plus you won't ever have to wonder what to do with used floss!!
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