Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

Plastic Packaging and Dental Floss

Jun 20, 2019 by Julia L F Goldstein , in Materials

I bought vegan dental floss recently. Don’t laugh, that’s what it says on the package. You might be thinking that dental floss doesn’t usually have animal products in it, so what’s the deal with vegan floss? Here’s the story: a couple of weeks ago, I was shopping at Public Goods and Services in West Seattle, a shop specializing in refillable and minimal packaging household and personal care products. Their dental floss comes in refillable glass containers with metal lids with two options for the thread: compostable or vegan. Both options meet the goal of reducing plastic waste. Plastic floss containers may not be the most critical problem when it comes to plastic packaging, but every step helps.

The compostable floss is made from silk. If you read the blog post I published on May 5, you know that natural silk comes from silkworm casings. It’s biodegradable but not cruelty-free. Although I respect those who choose to be vegan out of concern for animals—given the practices in the commercial meat industry they have a point—I do eat meat, and I believe that insects are worth considering as a protein source. I’ve never eaten silkworms either boiled or roasted but have tried energy bars made from cricket flour. They taste good.

My decision to buy the vegan dental floss, therefore, did not arise from concern about killing silkworms. I followed the advice of the shop owner, who explained that for people with tightly spaced teeth, the silk tends to break. The vegan floss, which is made from bamboo, polyester, and vegetable wax and looks like a spool of black thread, is supposedly stronger. Yes, it goes into the trash after use, but so does conventional nylon floss. And, honestly, I’m not sure if I would have placed a compost bin in my bathroom to collect silk floss, so that might have ended up in the trash anyway.

This floss is strong. It’s thicker than standard floss but doesn’t shred and get stuck between the teeth. I do, however, have one complaint. Sometimes the floss gets stuck in the container, and I need to unscrew the lid and pull out a section that’s gotten stuck to itself and tangled. Once released from the container, however, the floss is effective at doing the job it’s designed to accomplish.

I still use far too much disposable plastic packaging in my life, but at least I’m trying to reduce it. I’ll stick with the refillable floss container, but I might try the silk floss when it’s time for a refill.

Update, October 1: The second spool of vegan dental floss (the container came with two spools) hasn't experienced any tangling problems. I like it and think I'll stick with this floss.