Good flossing habits are essential for 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 over a lifetime.
The problem is, floss usually won’t be exposed to the conditions necessary to biodegrade in a reasonable amount of time. Most floss will get tossed into landfills, which are covered with layers of topsoil regularly as a way of preventing pest infestations, trash being blown away, and odors permeating throughout the area. However, the topsoil layering also prevents oxygen from reaching the trash. Oxygen is necessary for aerobic biodegradation. Just like us, most bacteria need air to survive, and thus eat.
Otherwise, floss is either incinerated (burned), 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.
Vegan Floss –
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, and not all are as environmentally-friendly as they claim.
But I did find one thats seemed to check off most of the zero waste boxes on my list. So let’s start with them first, then we’ll talk about the two Other Choices.
ME Mother Earth – Vegan Dental Floss – According to their site, this floss is, “100% Biodegradable and made from Bamboo Charcoal Fiber so it breaks down in approximately 60-90 days Packaging is all recyclable or biodegradable.”
ME Mother Earth is based in Nevada and although their products are manufactured in China, this is what they had to say:
We responsibly manufacture some of our products in China, the floss included. They have the latest technology in bamboo manufacturing since they’ve been manufacturing bamboo since the 80’s. We ask a lot from our manufacturing partners, and use minimal plastic in the process of making and transporting them. Our manufacturers are also 3rd party certified for fair working conditions and labor- this is VERY important to us!
All of our natural soaps, toothpowder, shampoo/conditioner bars, deodorant, dishwashing bars, cleaning products are all handmade in small batches in the U.S. by small, female-owned business partners.
Our UNPASTE toothtabs and Swedish Dish Cloths are made in Germany.
We are a small company, and appreciate you thinking about purchasing from our store, and please let me know if you have any additional questions!
Mother Earth Thanks You,
Amanda & Alberto
I found a company called TEVRA that claims to have a vegan, biodegradable floss, but there were many red flags:
Although their website is UK based, this floss is also manufactured overseas in China, under undescribed working conditions.
Secondly, it wasn’t easy to figure out what the floss was made from. That should be one of the first pieces of information given to the consumer. Tevra was 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?
I e-mailed them on 7/14 but have not heard back. I will update this if I do.
Then I found another vegan floss company called Boonboo:
Boonboo’s 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.
I e-mailed Boonboo asking for some clarification, which was bit confusing. On Amazon, their floss is sold by “Synergy Products.” When you google this company, nothing obvious comes up. Who is Synergy Products?
Finally, I got a reply from an account labeled “Panda.” No one bothered to sign the e-mail, so I don’t know who replied. Here’s what they said:
So Boonboo is certainly my last choice. For the record, my neighbors had a bamboo farm in Florida. This argument is nonsensical. Why grow sticks on the other side of the world and transport them here, unregulated, and sell them? How do we know they’re not spraying pesticides on the bamboo in China? Because someone who is trying to sell me something says so? Sorry, I don’t trust it. Show me the third-party verification.
Read: Bamboo Set to go Big on U.S. Farmland
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.