In pursuit of zero waste dental floss

zero waste dental floss

I floss my way through some zero waste dental floss brands, and then I get on my soapbox.

This is a post I’ve held off publishing for a while. It feels…unimportant. Dental floss quite literally operates in dark crevasses.

And yet, I can recall feeling so strongly about floss at one point that I seriously considered developing a biodegradable option myself. I also bothered to buy and test these zero waste floss options, so…let’s not dismiss it. Let’s talk about it.

A ‘hot’ need is so powerful it catches you up and makes you consider doing crazy things, like online shopping, or buying laundry balls. I once bought a laundry ball at a green living expo, then realized I was totally duped by my own desire never to use laundry detergent again. I did it again more recently with the CoraBall to catch microfibres from my washing machine. In hindsight wished I’d analyzed the ‘research’  more closely. It’s not that these items don’t work (well, jury’s out on the CoraBall), it’s that I didn’t need a CoraBall as much as I thought I did when the crowdfunding campaign appeared in my Facebook feed. Don’t dismiss these hot needs in yourself, or others, but try to identify them for what they are. For these are the circumstances where greenwash and unsubstantiated claims prey on our good intentions. So my caveat to this post is this: if you’re looking for a zero waste floss brand, please read all the way to the end. Onward. 

Zero Waste dental floss brands I’ve tested

This isn’t a place about products and brands, but it is about sharing useful information, which may include items I’ve tried and liked (or not). And although I’m all for minimizing the scope of toiletries to save time, money and packaging, I’ll never give up dental floss. Floss is more than a spinach remover. It helps prevent gum disease caused by bacteria accumulating below the gum line, which can eventually cause bone loss (eek).

I’m always on the lookout for lower waste floss, with recyclable or compostable packaging and product. Until recently, nothing much was worth recommending.   

I have normally spaced teeth plus a permanent retainer (just a metal bar) on the inside lower front teeth, under which I need to be able to shimmy the floss. Here are some options I’ve bought with my own funds and personally tested over the past year.  It would be impossible for me to meaningfully compare production methods, so that’s not evaluated here.

The control: any drugstore floss

Floss you buy in any drugstore is cheap, functional and made of nylon coated in who-knows-what kind of Teflon family chemicals (remember this story?). The plastic outer is technically recyclable, but in practise I bet it’s not often. It costs about $3 AUD/100m.

Radius silk floss individual sachets

Radius offers compostable silk floss embedded in single use paper sheets that you tear to open. The floss breaks if you pull too hard and it doesn’t work well under my permanent retainer. Twenty sachets come in a slim cardboard box. I think it was $4.20 CAD for 20 sachets? I bought these a long time ago in a country far, far away. This is $0.21/day option. I think. Radius also sells  silk floss in a more traditional container. That container is plastic and not refillable, so I’m not really sure of the point. 

Noosa Basics dental floss with charcoal

Noose Basics makes a waxed bamboo thread. UPDATE: their website now indicates that the floss includes polyester threads. This isn’t the strongest floss and it sometimes breaks, although I’ve learned to be more gentle. Thumbs up to this Aussie company for trying something innovative with packaging. The cardboard point of sale packaging holds the spool, there is no additional container within. The spool still uses a small plastic ring and sometimes the floss gets tangled, but overall I like it and I can use it easily under my permanent retainer. I hope the producer can find economies of scale to the cost down, because only zero waste obsessives would pay a ransom of $12.95 for 35m. I’d also like to see more floss in each container. As it stands, we really need to compare three packages of Noosa Basics floss to one drugstore floss- the latter packs significantly more into the one unit, and is effectively ‘concentrate’. I can see why Noosa Basics doesn’t, as it would make the bamboo floss seem shockingly expensive (more on that below), I’m just saying, using more of other resources to avoid plastic is an unintended, yet common, outcome to watch out for. 

Dental Lace

Dental Lace offers a thick silk thread coated with candelilla wax. The floss is compostable and the glass and metal container is refillable with spools that come in plant-based plastic sachets. The thread has no inner spool which eliminates that small bit of plastic – smart. My only critique is that there is a purely decorative plastic sticker on the outside of the package whose only destination is landfill once you peel it off, as I did. Also, the price. This was expensive at $8.75 for 60m plus shipping.

Dental floss, opportunity cost, and what it takes for zero waste

You’re not failing at zero waste if you use conventional floss for ease or financial reasons. I’d be more annoyed if you sacrificed future dental health to save this small amount of plastic. A single takeout container probably uses the same volume of plastic as a packet of floss that’ll last 6 months*. Not to mention, we sometimes create more waste by shopping ‘low waste’ when we buy online. I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask for and seek out better options, supporting upstart businesses along the way. I’m asking that we keep things in perspective and question what we think we have to do to participate in the zero waste movement. It’s not all or nothing. 

It’s also good to interrogate the overall product design and volume of materials used. Most of the time, product packaging isn’t created with the  environment or practicality in mind, but to meet a demonstrated, and ideally hot consumer need. Packaging is shaped in response to the way a consumer perceives a product. And of course, you know I would say we’re an irrational species that respond to stimuli then make up a story to explain our choices, not the other way around.  

That said, if you do want to make the switch, Dental Lace and Noosa Basics are the best I’ve tried to date. UPDATE: I no longer recommend Noosa Basics, as it contains polyester thread. Apples to oranges though, they cost way more than conventional. Per 100m, you’re paying $37 for Noosa Basics and $14 for Dental Lace, compared to $3 for your basic drugstore variety. With my curiosity satisfied, I’ll floss my way through my stockpile of Dental Lace refills before I decide if it’s a priority for me to reorder. 

I can’t see most people going out of their way and paying more to reduce this part of their waste stream, unless extremely motivated, like I have been on occasion. If it’s challenging to find low waste floss easily and locally, I’d suggest we’re better off focusing on reducing waste in other areas of life until it is. We work to zero waste, we don’t never make waste. Big difference.

What do you think – is reducing dental floss waste worth it, or destined to be just another scapegoat for the inaccessibility of a ‘zero waste lifestyle’?

*20cm used per floss means five flosses per metre, so Noosa Basics should last me 175 days if I floss once a day.  

2 thoughts on “In pursuit of zero waste dental floss

  1. Great post. Dental products are something I tend to make an exception for. As a firm believer in the benefits of fluoride in toothpaste I can’t see myself finding a zero waste toothpaste any time soon. I know recycling is a poor cousin to reduction or elimination but am excited about the new Terracycle program to recycle all forms of dental waste. There seem to be collection points popping up all over the place this year- at church, my son’s school and several local dentists in Brisbane.

    1. Hi Samantha, I feel the same. Teeth are costly to fix and painful if they’re not well cared for, so I also try to balance my desire to reduce waste with realism. TerraCycle is great! We have a few drop spots locally as well.

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