Good flossing habits are key to having clean teeth, but commercial floss is another plastic item that can easily be swapped out with more sustainable options. Most of the time, floss is made from nylon and coated in wax. Under the best conditions, a piece of floss will take about 80 years to biodegrade. Considering the average American goes through about 4-5 rolls of floss per year, this can really add up.
But the thing is, most of this floss won’t be exposed to the conditions necessary to biodegrade. They’ll either be tossed into landfill, which gets covered with topsoil, which prevents oxygen from getting to the trash, which is necessary for aerobic biodegradation. Otherwise, the floss is incinerated, or worse, flushed and littered.
There are other options, however, that break down much faster and aren’t derived from fossil fuels, like nylon.
Silk floss is a compostable alternative to regular plastic dental floss which breaks down in about 90 days in a backyard composter. In my opinion, it’s thicker than most commercial plastic floss brands, and therefore works better at cleaning your teeth.
The problem is, if you zero waste AND vegan, silk floss isn’t going to cut it. Silk comes from silkworms and is therefore not vegan-friendly. But there are few vegan, zero waste floss alternatives available, but not all are as environmentally-friendly as they claim.
I found a company called TEVRA that claims to have a vegan, biodegradable floss, but there were many red flags:
Firstly, it’s manufactured overseas in China under unknown working conditions, not necessarily a zero waste concern, but certainly a humanitarian concern. “Cruelty-free” should extend to the humans who make the product, as well. Nothing on their UK-based website mentions their workers, their conditions, or benefits.
Secondly, it was really hard to figure out what the floss was made from. That should be the first piece of information given to the consumer. They were very open about their plastic-free packaging, but only described their floss as “biodegradable.” It turns out that their floss is made from a cornstarch based polyester that was not backyard compostable and banned in most commercial compost facilities because it gets tangled in their equipment.
And again, everything is biodegradable eventually. The question is: does it take a month or centuries to biodegrade?
Then I found another vegan floss company called Boonboo:
Their site says their floss is made from bamboo, charcoal, and Candelilla wax. The company describes the floss as being “fully compostable.” From their site: “After usage, you can throw it into your compost pile where it will naturally biodegrade so you don’t have to worry about creating unnecessary waste and impurity like plastic that takes hundreds of years to decompose.” This floss is also made in China, so the same issues should be considered. Boonboo’s website also does not describe their worker’s conditions, which is always a red flag to me. There’s not always an easy answer.
Sometimes sustainability seems like we’re choosing the lesser of two or more evils. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our due diligence when making new purchases or trying products from new companies. Leaving public questions on their social media account hopefully forces them to address the issues, or at least bring more awareness to them. We try to do the right thing by buying more sustainable products. But when the working conditions of those manufacturing it are poor, I feel as though it takes away the fact that I’m trying to do something better for people and the planet.
How about you?