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Plastic Free July Day 16: Brush Without Plastic

toothpaste tubes floss toothbrushes plastic

(Back to the challenge summary)

PLASTIC WASTE FACTS

Plastic toothbrushes, toothpaste plastic tubes, nylon dental floss and floss plastic packaging are not recycled through city recycling programs: too many different materials, small plastic pieces that have no value on the recycling market… in the end, that’s a lot of plastic that piles up in landfills every year!

  • It is estimated that 1 BILLION TOOTHBRUSHES end up in american landfills every year. That’s about 30 MILLION POUNDS OF WASTE.
  • What about the floss? If everyone in the U.S. flosses their teeth according to ADA recommendations, every year our empty containers alone would fill a landfill the size of a football field that's six stories high. Just for the empty floss dispensers. And the floss itself? You could circle the Earth with it 1,246 times : that’s 31 MILLION MILES OF FLOSS.
  • Now here’s my estimate for toothpaste plastic tubes in the US: there’s approximately 300 million people brushing their teeth everyday. Let’s say they buy 2 toothpaste tubes every year; that would make 600 MILLION TUBES annually. They weight 0.7 oz each, which means 26.2 MILLION POUNDS additional plastic waste every year!

I’m sure you get it now. Switching to plastic-free dental care products would make a huge difference!

SOLUTION 1: BAMBOO TOOTHBRUSH

bamboo toothbrush brush with bamboo

There are many available on the market today.

Handles are fully compostable: make sure there’s no small piece of plastic and soy ink colors only.

Unless they are made of pig hair, the bristles go in the trash. I’ve never heard about a fully compostable toothbrush: it’s complicated to use compostable plastics to make bristles, so they are still in nylon and sometimes it’s a plant based nylon, which is better than oil-based but still not compostable.

So when your toothbrush is used, cut the head or remove the bristles with a plier. Throw the handle in compost and put the bristles in the trash.

SOLUTION 2: COMPOSTABLE FLOSS

compostable floss dental lace

On Saturday I participated to an event in San Francisco. People were so surprised to learn that “traditional” floss is made of plastic. I don’t blame them, I used to think I could put any floss in the compost… Well now I can, because there are eco-friendly brands out there and they decided to put an end to plastic floss!

My favorite one by far is Dental Lace silk floss: it’s fully compostable because it’s made of silk coated with candelilla wax (plant based, no petroleum based paraffin). And when I run out, I can refill with new spools, no need to buy another glass jar. The spools are packaged in paper, in a small compostable plastic pouch. I love how this company thought about all the details. The only thing missing now is a vegan version, without plastic. This seems to be quite a challenge!

 

SOLUTION 3: TOOTHPASTE

zero waste toothpaste natural

There are a couple of options here.

1: Make your own

Here’s my recipe:

  • 1/4 cup coconut
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 15 drops peppermint
  • 2 micro-spoons stevia (included in the container) = a pinch

Mix all the ingredients and stir well.

You can find many recipes online, I adapted this one.

It works really well but when it’s hot in summer, the coconut oil melts completely so you have to keep your jar in the fridge. And I have sensitive gums so I can’t use this every day. If it's not your case, then go for handmade toothpaste, as long as you can buy the ingredients without plastic.

 

2: Toothpaste in a glass jar.

You can find many online; they usually include natural ingredients and are fluoride-free. They use baking soda, clay, essential oils, … Packaging: it’s better if the product is in a glass jar with a metal lid instead of plastic.

I’ve tried many, I had lots of fails: one contained traces of lead (the little prop 65 sticker was at the bottom of the jar, thank you California because this information is not on the brand’s website!), one had a terrible taste, one was good but with a plastic lid, one was really good but in a metal tube with a plastic liner inside….  I thought I’d never find the perfect plastic free toothpaste!! But I did, finally! I found Nelson Naturals: glass jar, metal lid, great taste (my favorite scents are fennel and the thievery blend). It’s a little more expensive than regular toothpaste but it’s a small production, I hope their prices will go down as their production increases.

What to do with the jar when it’s empty? Glass and metal are easier to recycle than plastic. Place the lid and the jar in your recycling bin, separately. Or keep the jar and reuse it for spices, kids fuse beads…

3: Other options I’ve never tried

Tooth powder (if it comes in a glass jar or metal tin, that’s a yes!), neem stick toothbrushes, coconut oil (rinse your mouth with liquid coconut oil for 20mn).

If you’ve tried those, please share your feedback!

TERRACYCLE FREE DENTAL CARE RECYCLING PROGRAM

terracycle toms of maine recycling program

I started with Fillgood a recycling program in partnership with TERRACYCLE, a recycling company that has become a global leader in recycling hard-to-recycle waste.

The focus is plastic dental care items because they are not recyclable. Our customers save their used plastic dental care products (any brand), we collect them when we deliver orders, and ship them (one big box at a time) to Terracycle so they can be transformed into new objects.

Most of the time, our awesome customers switch to plastic-free solutions, so they give us their last pieces of plastic. I wish everyone would switch to plastic-free but I understand it’s not always possible. “Recycle” is the last option in the Zero Waste 5 R’s philosophy. It’s not the best but it’s better than landfills, so I’m happy to at least give the possibility to really recycle all these plastic items. TerraCycle will never landfill or incinerate the waste they collect through their various programs. They only use circular methods (reuse, upcycling or recycling) and they transform the materials into new objects.

The program includes: toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, mouthwash containers and dental floss.

Great news: anyone can do that!! It’s free, even the shipping: you can start collecting these items with your friends, your neighbors (start the conversation on Nextdoor for example). In Fall, I’ll offer to start this program in my daughter’s school.

When the items are shipped, Terracycle gives you points, which can be transformed into donations to the organization of your choice. In my case, I’m going to support the local organization that raises funds for public schools (Schoolcare). I won’t collect thousands of dollars but maybe a few hundreds, we’ll see. And I hope to raise awareness about single use plastics and encourage people to switch to plastic-free alternatives!

To learn more: Colgate program, Tom’s of Maine program

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