Small floss adds up to big waste – but it doesn’t have to

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dental floss comes with a lot of excess packaging

This morning I begrudgingly dropped another plastic floss dispenser into my trash can and that was it. I really really hate buying disposable plastic floss dispensers and it is high time I did something about it. I can wish as much as I’d like to, but those traditional plastic floss dispensers will not biodegrade or magically disappear.

So Mike and I did a little arithmetic and determined that if everyone in the United States used the same floss as we have in our bathroom right now (Colgate 25 yds) and followed the American Dental Association’s recommendations for flossing (1 x day, 18″ of floss — 7.3 containers per year), together we would need a landfill the size of a football field that’s 6 stories high just for our empty floss dispensers.


And that’s just one year of flossing. Just in the United States. And the floss itself? You could circle Earth with it 1,246 times. This is crazy! I needed to find a few solutions to stop this floss-waste insanity asap. So I did a little research and this is what I found.

Alternative Products

The current floss market is a disposable floss market. Even the “reusable” Bryton Pick is supposed to be replaced after 30 days. So since we’re disposing of our floss containers, we may as well shift our shopping habits towards the products that are making their disposable products a little more waste-responsible.

Dental Lace is an exciting new (in 2017) 100% Mulberry Silk floss that comes in a glass and stainless steel refillable container. You can even buy barely-packaged refill spools with 50 yds of floss each.
Radius Silk Floss is 100% biodegradable, floss, dispenser and all, though the yardage is a low 33 yds.
Natural Dentist Stim-U-Dent Plaque Removers are thin, wooden picks that you can use in place of or as a supplement to floss.
Dr. Mercola makes floss that is plastic-free and their packaging is recyclable and biodegradable.
DrTung’s Smart Floss comes in a biodegradable container. Though it is still a disposable product that won’t biodegrade as well as we wish it would, it is a step in the right direction. And the floss itself is less fossil-fuel consumptive because it is waxed with bee and vegetable wax instead of a petrochemical derivative.

Smarter Strategies for Buying Standard Floss

Though the alternative flosses are in the same price bracket as standard floss, they can be a little hard to find in stores. If you find yourself in need of floss and only standard floss to choose from, here are some waste-savvy shopping tips.

Read the yard count, not just the price sticker.
Some floss comes with 25 yards per container while others may have 100 yards or more. Don’t let the size of the dispenser or any 2 x 1 deals fool you.

Find freestanding floss.
Avoid excessive packaging when you can by choosing the floss that’s sitting on the shelf instead of hanging from a hook in additional packaging.

Go small!
Choose the smallest dispenser, one that uses the least amount of plastic.

Go big! Or rather, shop like a dentist.
You can buy larger refill spools of floss  (200 yards seems to be standard) and a mountable  or regular reusable dispenser from dental supply companies. You can skip the online shopping footprint by buying these things directly from your dentist. I am sure most dentists would be thrilled to see someone taking such an interest in their flossing habits and would be glad to help you.

Taking Action to Improve Existing Products

Baby Steps: I would love to see the existing floss producers sell replacement spools to fit the existing disposable dispensers. It’s an easy solution for them because they’re already manufacturing the spools. They just need to package them for sale. Would you buy a 5 or 10-pack of replacement spools? I sure would. Here’s how to reach some of these people with your suggestions:

Contact Procter & Gamble (or P&G’s Oral-B and Crest divisions separately) asking for a solution to better fit your needs as a customer.

Colgate-Palmolive Company makes this kind of feedback a little easier with their page where you can submit an innovation or improvement to an existing product.

REACH is, somewhat ironically, the least convenient to reach, as they only provide a phone number 1-866-983-5677 (Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm EST).

And of course, you can find and sign petitions like this to reduce floss-specific plastic waste.

Now what to do with all of those used floss dispensers?

There are lots of ways to repurpose floss containers. I have personally used one to keep guitar picks from floating loosely around my case. Here are some clever ideas by other people. Please share your ideas in the comments.


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