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Dental floss may seem like an insignificant bathroom item, but the amount of dental floss sold in the US each year could span the distance from the earth to the moon and back four times![1] All that dental floss—from production to disposal—surely adds up to have a significant impact on the environment. Lessen your impact by choosing floss that is not coated with petroleum-derived and environmentally damaging chemicals and floss sold in minimal packaging.

What to look for when choosing a natural dental floss

The main component of most dental floss is nylon, a synthetic fiber derived from petroleum products. Petroleum is a non-sustainable resource, the extraction and production of which has had major detrimental impacts on the soil, ground water, surface water, and ecosystems of the United States and around the world. Alternative flosses are made of silk. Silk is a natural fiber with minimal manufacturing-related eco-impacts (think resource intensiveness, pollution, and waste), but is frowned upon by many pro-animal rights environmentalists.

Despite the lack of a clear eco-friendly alternative for the basic component of dental floss, you can still make your dental floss purchases more eco-friendly by looking for the following:

  • Avoid polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE): Some floss (most popularly Crest Glide) is coated with PTFE, an ingredient that also provides the coating in non-stick cookware. Concern over this substance, called Teflon in everyday use, surrounds a chemical used in its manufacture, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The US Environmental Protection Agency discovered that PFOA is persistent in the environment and in the blood of the general US population. While the EPA does not currently recommend that consumers stop using products made with PFOA, it has called on companies to reduce facility emissions and product content of PFOA and related chemicals by 95 percent by 2010, and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content by 2015.[2]
  • Look for unwaxed or natural wax coatings: Conventional waxed floss is generally coated with petroleum-derived, synthetic wax. Natural floss manufacturers eschew synthetic ingredients in favor of natural (plant-based or beeswax) coatings and flavorings.
  • Choose dental floss with minimal and recyclable packaging: Many dental floss containers are made from plastic (there's that pesky petroleum component again). Some manufacturers have limited the amount of plastic needed in their packaging by using cardboard cases or skipping the blister wrap. When considering packaging options, less is more, and always recycle, no matter what type of packaging you choose.
  • Go cruelty-free: If you're concerned about animal byproducts and animal treatment, you'll want to avoid silk floss and floss coated with beeswax, and choose products that do not employ animal testing. Two organizations supply third-party verification of a company's cruelty-free and vegan product claims. Leaping BunnyBy looking for products with the Leaping Bunny Logo or the Certified Vegan Logo, you can rest assured that your dental floss does not contain animal-derived ingredients and its components were never tested on animals.

Find it! Natural dental floss

Using natural dental floss helps you go green because…

  • Ingredients found in nature are used to coat the floss, not eco-unfriendly chemicals, including synthetic wax which may be petroleum-derived.
  • It’s free of harmful chemicals, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), whose manufacture pollutes our air and water.
  • Makers of natural dental floss often follow green business practices, such as using recycled packaging and harnessing renewable energy sources like wind power.

Controversies

Silk dental floss is a natural material alternative to synthetic nylon floss. Silk is, after all, a naturally occurring fiber, produced by the Bombyx mori or mulberry silkworm (which is actually a caterpillar). The caterpillar's spun cocoon is what is collected to make silk. However, in order to preserve the cocoon to be sold as silk, farmers kill the cocooned moth before it can emerge. Therefore, animal rights-focused environmentalists do not consider silk a green or sustainable material.

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