Did somebody say oral?

Simply cleaning your mouth does more damage than you’d think. The act itself isn’t harmful and is actually quite a hygienic daily task, but it is also the reason behind a lot of waste. All your discarded plastic toothbrushes, all the empty mouthwash bottles you forgot to recycle, the dental floss scraps that are tossed down the drain and your empty crumpled toothpaste tubes that now reside in a landfill site are all thoughts far from the corners of your mind.

While we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our oral health for a more sustainable dental routine, we have to face the issue of how wasteful the norm is in the squeaky-clean plastic world of dentistry. We have been sold this idea that plastic is by far the easiest and cheapest material when after a hygienic object, and this naturally applies to all products associated with bodily cleanliness, especially when it comes to your mouth.

Here’s a breakdown of the environmental issues our favourite oral hygiene products cause, and their eco alternative.

Toothbrushes

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Bamboo toothbrushes. Credit: Trash is for Tossers.

Rows upon rows of different colours, oddly shaped handles, sizes, bristle densities, the number of toothbrush options that flood the aisles of the supermarket can be slightly overwhelming. They all have one thing in common, the fact that about three months after purchase, they are destined for landfill.

Over 4.7 billion plastic toothbrushes that will never be biodegraded are dumped into landfill and oceans every year. They are found everywhere from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to inside the stomachs of marine birds and aquatic life.

People have become more aware of the harmful properties of plastics to human health and the environment, so more BPA free reusable objects like Tupperware and water bottles have been surfacing. Though this is the case, a lot of the population remains to ignorantly and willingly chew on a plastic stick twice a day, surely that can’t be great for your health either, right?

Changing your brushing method is possibly the EASIEST change for your daily mouth routine and it’s as simple as swapping your regular plastic toothbrush for a sustainable bamboo one. There has been an influx of these on the market recently and so much so that you can find them in just about any pharmacy/supermarket these days!

One of my favourites is Brush with Bamboo, the world’s first completely plant-based toothbrush. Their bristles are made from 62% castor bean oil and 38% nylon (and BPA free, baby). This is the most advanced bio-based bristle on the market today, and all the bristles can be recycled. As a company as well, they are pushing traditional toothbrush manufacturers to develop better alternatives to nylon.

There is also the Swedish company Humble Brush, they make theirs with a biodegradable bamboo handle, (bamboo being the fastest growing plant on earth and therefore highly sustainable) which is nice to hold and feels really solid and of a high quality. The bristles however are made of Nylon 6, which is a fast degrading type of nylon, and come in a variety of colours. It has a very Nordic design which appeals to a minimal bathroom.

These bamboo options can be composted at home, through your local method, or can even be used for firewood in the winter months.

Toothpaste

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DIY zero waste toothpaste. Credit: Trash is for Tossers.

Those scrunched up empty tubes are a nightmare to the environment and simply just can’t be recycled, but along with the increasingly popular plastic-free toothbrushes that are starting to be appear, there has also been a surge of eco-toothpaste brands emerging for those that aren’t keen to start making their own straight away.

A great one is the U.K. based Georganics who make eco-friendly toothpaste and other oral and facial hygiene products. All of their packaging is plastic free and their toothpastes come in glass jars with wooden spatulas to put it on your toothbrush, and even the seal wrapped around the jars is biodegradable! Made from cellulose originating from wood pulp from renewable resources called ‘viskrings’, it takes less than six week to degrade!

Not only do they make a range of natural toothpastes which are completely nontoxic and beautifully flavoured with natural essential oils, they also make an oil pulling mouthwash range, a natural mouthwash tablet range and bamboo toothbrushes. Seriously, check them out, they are an amazing innovative company doing great things!

Worldwide company Lush also does two toothpaste alternatives, a tooth powder that comes in a recycled plastic pot, or ‘toothy tabs’ which are pill-like things you chew into a foam and brush. These are also packaged in recycled plastic bottles so the only issue with these options are that they aren’t entirely plastic free.

If you’re ready for the next step and want to put your DIY hat on, a cost-effective option is to make your own toothpaste. It admittedly takes a while to get used to the different flavour after years of being used to the harsh minty-taste of conventional toothpastes, but it is a natural nontoxic option to your clean teeth and you do get used to it, I promise.

Recipe:
3 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 ½ tablespoons of food grade baking soda
25-30 drops peppermint essential oil (add to your liking of mint)
Then pick your flavours based off the benefits you want!

Cinnamon oil/powder: anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, flavour
Clove oil/powder: anti fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, good for toothaches
Rosemary oil/powder: antibacterial and soothing to sore gums
Tea tree oil: antibacterial, antiviral, good for bad breath.

Store in an airtight reusable glass jar and scoop some out with a spoon to put on your toothbrush. You can also add Stevia if you prefer a bit more sweetness, as the baking soda does make it somewhat salty. As always with these recipes, it takes a bit of time playing around with quantities to find what works best for you. This will last a while if no water comes into contact with it and it’s usually easier to make small batches at a time.

Mouthwash

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Zero waste bathroom. Credit: Meetup.

When you think about mouthwash, you generally think of that harsh burn that means it’s ‘working’, and swirling painful chemical-laden liquid around for exactly 30 seconds. Once that bottle is empty, it’ll generally end up in your bathroom bin, which for some reason is exempt from recycling in a lot of homes.

It easy to swap this for a homemade version that contains no chemicals and doesn’t have that burn. You can create your own flavour depending on your preferences, too. By mixing a little bit of food grade baking soda, a few essential oils that contain antibacterial properties and a splash of water, you get a gentle and effective eco-friendly mouthwash.

Recipe:
½ cup water
2 tsp baking soda
5-10 drops of one or more of any of the below essential oils (more can be added depending on your preference)

Now pick your flavour!

Peppermint oil: traditional mint flavour, cooling and antibacterial properties
Clove oil/powder: anti fungal, antibacterial, antiviral, good for toothaches
Rosemary oil/powder: antibacterial and soothing to sore gums
Tea tree oil: antibacterial, antiviral, good for bad breath

Swill 3-4 teaspoons around for as long as you would with traditional mouthwash. Larger batches of this aren’t recommended as the oils continue to blend over time and changes the flavour.

Dental Floss

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Credit: Wasteland Rebel

Dental floss typically comes packaged in plastic containers that are nearer to the impossible side of recycling due to their metal cutting component. The floss itself is commonly made out of one of two polymers, either nylon or Teflon, that is then normally waxed and rolled up – a.k.a bad for the environment and the oceans. Humans dispose enough dental floss yearly to circle the Earth a number of times, and the total amount that’s ever been thrown away is enough to envelop the globe like a spider wraps up a fly caught in their web. Kind of a disgusting, but the perfect comparison for what we are doing to the planet, right?

Sadly, most of the disposed used dental floss ends up in waterways and is harmful to animals who might get caught in it, as well as contributing to the prediction of more plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. Thankfully, you don’t have to start using strands of your own hair to get the job done as there are a lot of options out there for a more environmentally friendly floss.

The most popular amongst the zero-waste community is by the German manufacturer, Vömel, which sells their floss in a tiny (and very stylish) glass vial. When you order online at monomeer.de (might have to use a bit of Google Translate on the website) you are able to buy it plastic free, as they ship in paper bags, making it a plastic free purchase.

This brand is compostable and so you generally know where it will end up if you do your own composting, or have a local composting site. The downside to this option is that it is made from silk and beeswax – so it is not vegan. If you are after a vegan plastic free solution, this is sadly still hard to access.

There are companies which make nylon floss to decompose within 5 years, but this still leads to endangering animals and polluting the environment within that time frame. It’s up to you which option you see as less damaging and fits for you best. If you’re still stuck for which option is the lesser evil, humans historically have used horse hair to floss teeth, so was I really joking about using your hair for floss? (I mean, does it actually seem more extreme as using fibres that came out of a worm? … up to you.)

So there you have it, there are so many options available to revamp your bathroom cupboard and transform it from perhaps one of the least eco-friendly areas of the home, to a truly environmentally sustainable one that looks sleek and beautiful, too.