How Traditional Floss Ends Up Being an Eco Nightmare

Living an eco-friendly life can be tough, especially if you are just starting to look at your routine with a more “green” eye.

public goods silk dental floss, traditional plastic container

Reusables — like steel bottles, cotton bags and travel silverware — are a good jumping off point, but things quickly start to get complicated when you look at all the little things around your home.

For me, the most intimidating part of the house to “greenify” is the bathroom. In a single cabinet, I have half a dozen little necessities, made up of a myriad of materials, most of which I have no idea if I can reuse or recycle. I’ve made the switch to a bamboo toothbrush (they biodegrade, unlike plastic), but it took me much longer to switch out my floss container.

Floss was something I never gave much thought. Considering how many people don’t floss, I was proud of myself for flossing at all. But it turns out that those little spools of floss are an environmental minefield.

For one, floss is usually housed in a plastic container. If that container isn’t recyclable, it’s probably going to end up in the trash, meaning a landfill, meaning my floss container is going to be taking up space for upwards of 500 years. Multiple that by how many containers of floss I go through a year and…ouch.

It turns out those little spools of floss are an environmental minefield.

Then we have the floss itself. Most floss is made out of nylon, another non-biodegradable material, meaning more landfill time. That is, if the nylon even makes it to a landfill…

Being such a small piece of litter, floss, and other types of small plastic, often get swept up in the disposal process and end up in the ocean. Floss, designed specifically not to tear, is a real problem in the ocean. Like other plastics, it can end up suffocating marine animals, or making its way into their stomachs, where it often stays for years, causing serious health issues.

In addition to all of this , nylon floss often comes waxed in various flavors. There are pros to this quality, but unfortunate cons as well. Waxed floss is stain and stick-resistant, meaning it moves between teeth more easily. Waxed floss also comes in pleasant flavors like mint and evergreen.

Sadly, floss wax manufacturers created all of these attributes by using perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs. PFCs are found in tons of goods besides floss, including clothes, cookware and furniture. The problem is PFCs have been the target of numerous health studies in recent years. While the science isn’t decided yet, PFCs appear to be much more problematic than we once thought.

So much for feeling good about flossing…

Luckily, the floss market has expanded, and with it, we have more eco-friendly options available to us. You can now find floss made out of a variety of materials, or you can forgo floss altogether and try a water-based solution.

I have found that the easiest floss alternative on the market is silk floss. Silk floss is natural, made out of silk from silkworms, and you won’t need to consume extra water to use it. Unlike traditional nylon floss, silk floss is biodegradable, meaning only a few years in a landfill, instead of a few hundred.

Many silk flosses use a natural, plant-based wax called Candelilla wax, instead of the usual PFCs. Being more eco-minded, silk floss often comes in small, reusable glass bottles, meaning you can order a new spindle of floss instead of an entirely new package every time. Plus, the glass bottle looks way better on my shelf than those big plastic floss containers ever did.

Sadly, silk floss isn’t perfect. It is more expensive than regular floss. Additionally, it is weaker than the nearly indestructible nylon floss you might be used to. And silk floss isn’t vegan, as silk harvesting usually means killing the silkworms in their cocoons.

While it isn’t the perfect solution, silk floss is still much better for you and the environment when compared to traditional floss. Give it a try next time you empty out your usual floss.

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Comments (6)

  • Thank you for all you are doing for the planet and for our bodies by offering healthier options of commonly used products. Any chance you’d be willing to look into offering bamboo replacement heads for electric toothbrushes? There’s definitely a need for a more sustainable solution there. Thanks for considering.

    • Hi Madeline,

      Thank you for the kind words! I will tell our product development team about your idea of bamboo replacement heads.

  • Unfortunately, within one week, I knocked my glass floss container off the sink and broke it! Maybe I missed it in this lengthy article, but is your floss made from silk? I am indeed vegan.

    • Yes, it is made from silk. It’s biodegradable and eco-friendly, but I’m afraid the downside is it’s not vegan-friendly. Unfortunately all the vegan-friendly flosses are not good for the environment.

      • Aloha !
        I do luv all the ways you are helping the Planet and Us !
        I too am Vegan.
        Is killing the cocoon the ONLY way to obtain Silk ? If not, what would it take for Public Goods to find a silk supplier that did Not kill the cocoon ?
        If that is the only way, then….. There Must be an Eco-Friendly Vegan Substance that can be made into floss ?!
        Hemp ?
        Sugar Cane ?
        Etc…?
        What has your research shown as any possible viable alternatives ?

        Mahalo ????

  • Have you tried Cocofloss? Look it up at Cocofloss.com
    I think you can get it on Amazon.
    I’m a retired Dental Hygienist, so I’m always looking out for a better solution to non-recyclables.

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