It cannot be denied that the daily oral hygiene regime advocated by the dental team includes products derived from plastics. Alternatives are coming to market, but the safety, ethics and sustainability of them should not compromised. Hopefully this short blog may shed some light on the professional concerns and offer a better understanding to alternative products available.
The first consideration must be recycling the products we use. Cut the head off a manual toothbrush, remove the floss from a Flosspick and recycle the handles. Unfortunately, many toothbrushes and dental products are made of multiple material, many of which incorporate rubber or silicone. Electric toothbrush heads use less plastic, but contain other materials, making recycling difficult.
Both TePe and Terracycle a piloting schemes in dental practices to collect mixed dental plastic waste and recycle it. The numbers of participants are limited and currently the scheme is oversubscribed. This sounds the perfect solution. Unfortunately, there are currently no facilities in the UK to complete this recycling process. These products are having to be shipped abroad to be recycled, increasing the carbon footprint of the whole scheme.
What are the alternatives to plastic?
TePe have launched their ‘Good’ toothbrush and was the first mass produced bioplastic toothbrush of its kind. The handle is derived from sugar cane and 100% bio-based filaments from castor oil. To ensure the filament are secured safely to the head, metal pins are used, making the toothbrush 96% bio-based. Another plus point is the manufacturing process, which uses renewable energy, part of which is from TePes own roof top solar panels. Tepe are hoping to roll out their bio-plastic to their whole range, but this will take time. The drawback to these products. It is still a plastic and will not bio degrade.
Bamboo is another option, fast growing, minimal water required and easily harvested. The world’s largest producers of bamboo are China and India. In the race to find sustainable alternatives to plastic the issue of ensuring ethically sourced alternatives should not be ignored.
Piksters have launched a range of bamboo interdental brushes. Produced from Moso Bamboo, it does not require pesticides or fertilisers. The company assure ‘the quality control team directly manages the certification process ensuring that their products are ethically sourced’.
It is important not to forget where dental products are used, the mouth, the gateway to the body. Therefore, the quality of these products should not be compromised.
For many years’ nylon has been the product of choice for toothbrush filaments. The ability to manufacture rounded filaments less traumatic to the soft tissues and that dry quickly to reduce the proliferation of bacteria. The availability of bamboo toothbrushes is a growing market, the majority of which use nylon filaments. Bioplastics may be the more hygienic alternative.
Other challenges faced with oral hygiene products is packaging.
This especially relates to toothpastes. Plastic is the obvious choice. Cheap to manufacture, light and ensures the longevity of their contents. The alternatives are toothpaste tablets and powders. The drawbacks are that the majority of these do not contain fluoride and can be often abrasive, causing potential damage to the tooth enamel and soft tissues. The challenge is to find products that contain a suitable level of fluoride and are not too abrasive on tooth tissue.
There are some companies producing such toothpaste products. One company provide a range in tubes using the ‘Albea Greenleaf Technology’ and recycled plastic, reducing their carbon footprint by 34%. Others are producing toothpaste tablets in cardboard boxes or recyclable glass bottles. Unfortunately, there are several suppliers of toothpaste tablets that are not tooth friendly.
Within the dental arena all clinical and sharps waste produced must be collected by appropriately registered companies and incinerated. When this process takes place, it will produce approximately 50% energy and 50% bottom ash. Burning good quality plastic can improve the energy output and quality of bottom ash of which 40 to 50% is used to build and repair our roads. This is not an ideal option, but the hard reality of the legality of clinical waste disposal.
Offering sustainable environmentally friendly products poses a myriad of dilemmas. Maybe Newtons third law of physics sums it up nicely. ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’.
If you’d like more information on the sustainable dental products that we supply, call us today on 01275 842550