The other day I went to the dentist for the first time in …I do not even know how long. Everyone (i.e. the secretary, the hygienist and the dentist) still remembered me! That is not the point of this post, though. I arrived at this appointment knowing I would have gingivitis. Why? Because my discomfort with waste, paired with my forgetful nature, stop me from flossing. The discomfort with waste has always been a part of me. For example, as a child, I used to keep all of my school supplies until there was no way I could get any use out of them; writing/colouring tools until no colour came out, or I could not longer hold them …paper until there was absolutely no space for continued use, etc. My first few days in Ghana intensified this discomfort. By what I could see, the first two R’s of recycling seemed to be in common practice. Despite this, everywhere I went, refuse surrounded me: in gutters, on streets, on properties, at schools and businesses, even in the dirt I dug through at the farm. Waste has since played a significant role in my life, causing me to find ways to reduce, if not remove it from my life, in any way possible.
Let’s first rethink dental floss. Conventional dental floss is a petrol-based product, meaning it is a plastic product, to which we attribute but one use. Because of this, dental floss is a product with a very short life cycle, which often ends in a landfill. Being made of plastic, all social and environmental impacts linked to plastic apply. Reducing consumption of dental floss is another option, however I am not willing to risk gum disease to stop flossing. While some mouthwashes are advertised as working just as well as dental floss, dentists emphasize that nothing can replace flossing. The same goes for waterpiks.
Reusing the floss we do use is yet another option. In my search for information to write this post, I learned that some people wash their floss and reuse it, however I quite agree with MyPlastiFreeLife‘s statement that if the floss can live through repeated uses is likely made of materials that we should avoid putting in our mouth repeatedly, anyways. Despite this, there are ways to reuse dental floss afterwards (just remember to wash it beforehand), so as to reduce waste (see below).
Recycling conventional floss is not an option, sadly, nor is composting. Then again, there is always the option of switching to silk floss; made of a natural fiber, silk floss is biodegradable. While caring for the worms does not require fertilizers or pesticides, processing of silk is very labour intensive, while also using high amounts of resources.; further, transportation to market is highly polluting. While speaking to my dentist, I mentioned that I had recently considered using cotton thread, but had a fear that it would damage my gums. He then informed me that my gums are stronger than I think, however most threads are too thin, something that goes into the design of floss. Apparently the Apache First Nations used yucca leaf fibers for their floss. Also, in Ghana I have used the chewing stick that many Ghanaians prefer and it really is quite good, once you get used to chewing it (it’s harder than it looks).
Tomorrow I need to pick up some food at Avril, the nearest place I can find sustainable options, so I will definitely be going through their dental flosses, for further research. As this post is getting a bit lengthy, I will save brushes and paste for another day.
Recycling Floss – Can You Recycle Dental Floss??
Additional Links – The Ever.Increasing Hazards of the Household, The Floss You Can Toss, Green and Healthy Mouths.Dental Floss, How Can I Reuse or Recycle Dental Floss Packaging, Plastic Free Dental Floss? No Quite, What is Dental Floss Made Of?, Zero Waste Bathroom.Dental Floss