I love Earth Day — around these parts, I celebrate it as Earth Week! Don’t miss some of my previous content, including eight ways to live and travel plastic free, a guide to carbon offsets for travelers, and my full roster of responsible travel content.
What’s better than a brighter smile? One that’s as good for the planet as possible! As I’ve progressed in my sustainability journey, there was a point where I looked around my bathroom sink and reflected on how taking care of your teeth can produce a lot of waste. I’d already gone green with my hair care routine — using solid shampoo and solid conditioner, a reef safe leave-in conditioner when diving, and letting my hair dry naturally 99% of the time — and so my dental care seemed like a natural next step.
Plastic toothbrushes, plastic tubes of chemical-loaded toothpaste and plastic bottles of harsh mouthwash, plastic floss and plastic tongue sweepers. Eek! Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, and on its way, it leaks BPA and phthalates that eventually end up seeping into the planet — and us. So I bid those disposable goodbye — and with it, all the guilt. My smile has never felt brighter or lighter. Here’s what I’m using these days that’s good for me and good for the planet. (Rounded out with a bit of accountability at the end.)
Bite Toothpaste Bits
According to Bite, over a billion toothpaste tubes are thrown out every year — the mass of fifty Empire State Buildings, every dang year! That’s mind boggling, right?
We believe the earth is not ours to keep, but to protect for future generations. — Bite
I can still remember when my friend Lindsay first started researching and experimenting with creating waste-free, cruelty-free and all natural toothpaste tabs, running a research lab out of her bathtub. Since then, Bite Toothpaste Bits have grown all the way up, moved from Lindsay’s bathtub to an ethical hand-pressed production lab in California, and exploded in popularity, with gushing features everywhere from Cosmopolitan to Oprah Magazine.
Bites are simple to use — just wet your toothbrush, pop a Bite in your mouth, bite down, and brush as usual. They’ll lather up just like an other toothpaste would. But these ones come with a special goal: Less chemicals in our bodies, less plastic in our landfills.
Like most eco-swaps, there is a small adjustment period. Personally, I like to use two Bite bits in the morning to feel super extra fresh. It took me a while to get used to after so many decades of using paste but now I’m hooked for life!
Bite is truly committed to sustainability in everything from their packaging to their shipping methods. The bottles are glass, refills are sent in compostable pouches, and the entire process is plastic-free from start to finish. When I first started thinking about traditional toothpaste alternatives I was mostly concerned with the plastic waste of the tubes, but they are also made with cheap ingredients and chemicals which I’m now thrilled to be free of.
Bite comes in both the classic Mint Flavor and Mint Charcoal Flavor. You can buy a single small bottle, designed to last a month, or a large bottle, designed to last four months, with refill subscriptions sent to you every four months in biodegradable refill packets made to pour directly into your bottle.
I recommend if you’re trying Bite for the first time, nab a set of small bottles of both flavors for $20 to see which you prefer, then sign up for the subscription service of whichever you prefer to save big time — a full 38%! Then, set aside the small bottles to use when you’re traveling. The tablets are TSA approved, and you’ll never have to worry about about a tube of toothpaste exploding in your suitcase ever again!
I feel like I’ve been along for the ride with Lindsay since the beginning of Bite — testing new product variations, giving feedback on packaging, stepping over boxes of her hand-stamping supplies when her living room was the HQ — I LOVE this product and am so proud of the success it has found! And stay tuned. Bite has more coming.
Bamboo toothbrushes are really catching on in popularity, which I’m thrilled by. Not only are they a vastly superior choice than their plastic counterparts from a sustainability standpoint, they’re also naturally antimicrobial.
Once you toss a plastic toothbrush, it ends up in a landfill with the other billion or so per year that the planet throws out, releasing toxic chemicals for the hundreds of years it will take to break down into micro-plastics. Bamboo, on the other hand, grows up to two feet per day, making it a fantastically renewable resource, and requires no oil to be extracted to produce, giving it a low carbon footprint. Plus, bamboo toothbrush handles are completely biodegradable and compostable once they are done making your teeth clean — they take just about six months to compost!
Sounds flawless, right? Well, no toothbrush is perfect. Yet. When I first switched to bamboo I did a deep dive reading all the blog posts from zero waste bloggers, who are super thorough — some going as far as to send the bristles for scientific analysis to see if the manufacturer’s claims of compostable bristles were true! (They weren’t.)
The problem is the bristles, which are still made in most cases at least partially with nylon. At the moment, the only completely compostable toothbrush is one with totally natural bristles — they are pig hair, yo! Yup, you read that right. The pig hair is a by-product of the Chinese meat industry that would have otherwise gone to waste, which sounds very cool in theory, but in practice I’ve read that they can attract bacteria, and um, it sounds gross. Plus, unsurprisingly, the intersection of zero waste and vegan folks is kinda huge, so these aren’t super popular.
So, pig hair aside, what are your options? There are endless variations of bamboo toothbrushes on the market now, generally grouped into either round handle or flat handle versions, with either plain or charcoal infused bristles. They even make colorful ones if you have multiple people sharing a bathroom!
Personally, after trying out a few brands, I’m loyal to Mother’s Vault now. The handle will biodegrade naturally in a landfill, or can be composted if you remove the nylon bristles with pliers beforehand. The cardboard in the packaging is 100% biodegradable and there are no plastic windows or cellophane bags. I buy the four packs to cut down further on the footprint of packaging and shipping waste. I love that a portion of every sale of Mother’s Vault toothbrushes and other beauty products is donated to Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization.
Personally I swap out my toothbrush when I notice it’s begun to fray rather than at some arbitrary date decided on by someone who makes a profit the more you buy their product, but I did see a cool tip once that’s perfect for those who like to make the swap every three months — with bamboo toothbrushes, it’s easy to write the date you started using it on the handle!
Steel Tongue Scraper
I know these seem like bizarre items to some people, but I can’t live without a tongue scraper! It makes my mouth feel so clean. Tongue scraping is an important part of ayurveda and has so many health benefits.
I used to use the plastic versions you can pick up at any drug store, but when it got gunky years ago I replaced it with steel — and I’ve never gone back! While the steel sweeper I use unfortunately does come packaged in plastic, because it is made of steel it could literally last a lifetime if I don’t lose it (unlike the plastic versions, which did get gross and need to be replaced eventually.) So at least the packaging waste is a one-time thing — and I did make my best effort at recycling it.
A Waste Free Mouthwash
I actually don’t use mouthwash often, so this wasn’t a huge concern for me. That said, I found a way to never have to buy another plastic bottle of the stuff again — simple crush a few Bite bits, mix with water, and viola — an eco-friendly mouthwash, no further purchases required!
This is my most recent swap! When I realized that floss was essentially the only plastic packaged dental product I was still using, I knew it was time to look for alternatives. I originally ordered this cute tin-held version, though I was dismayed when it arrived and was packaged in a ton of unnecessary plastic. So sadly, I won’t be purchasing that again.
I also recently nabbed this silk floss, which I’m thrilled to report is packaged almost entirely plastic-free. The floss is even compostable! Refills do come in a plastic-looking little bag that the company assures is also compostable — but I’d love to see that swapped to paper moving forward. Of course, this won’t be an option for vegans, though they do have a bamboo version that is. If you know of a perfect solution, hit me up!
Smile Direct Club
Confession: I’m not perfect. Shocking, I know! But I simply couldn’t write this whole blog post about my nearly plastic-free toothcare routine without acknowledging that I’m sitting here with a mouth full of plastic as I type this.
After years of feeling self-conscious about my slightly crowded and crooked teeth, I finally took the plunge this fall and started SmileDirectClub. For those that aren’t familiar, it’s essentially a mail-order Invisalign. After going into a local SmileShop for a scan, I was sent one huge shipment of six months of weekly plastic retainers that are eventually pushing my teeth into the perfect smile. I did some research and these aligners cannot be recycled, because they are classified as “medical devices.” I absolutely weighed up the environmental impact and amount of plastic this produces when I made my decision, but I did decide that in the end, it was something I felt strongly that I wanted to do for myself. I’m embarrassed to say I’m just too vain to do traditional braces.
I have to admit that while I feel guilty about the waste, I am so excited to have straight white teeth and for such a good price – if you’re interested, you too can get a free scan and whitening session using this link. I’m five out of six months in and I’m just giddy when I smile — my teeth look better than I every imagined! I know everyone has some non-negotiables in their life that keep them from being completely waste-free. And that’s okay. I’ll keep making sustainable choices wherever I can, and considering carefully and offsetting when possible those that are less so.
Here’s to less chemicals in our bodies and less plastic in our landfills! Do you have a sustainable toothcare routine? Would you consider making any of these swaps?