“The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. [To] see if they could work together when we needed them to fight the battles we never could.”
-Nick Fury, “The Avengers”
In dentistry, there is a constant battle between the mass consumption of disposables and environmental sustainability. As health care professionals, we not only have an obligation to the oral well-being of our patients but also to the well-being of the environment surrounding them. By adopting and promoting more eco-conscious practices, dentists have the ability to “become something more” and band together as “Sustainability Avengers” to fight the battle known as climate change.
The deadline for irreversible damage to our climate is quickly approaching. According to the journal Earth System Dynamics, earth’s “endgame” is set for 2035 — meaning that without a transition to clean energy sources by this time, we’ll reach the “point of no return” (PNR). After crossing that point, climate rates could increase 2°C per year, and the effects could be detrimental.
Plastic production is one the most significant contributors to rising carbon dioxide levels. Dentists use a plethora of plastic-based products, many of which are single-use. According to a study published in the March 2018 issue of Scientific Reports, toothbrushes are among the 92% of large fragments and objects found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This floating landfill drifts throughout the Pacific Ocean and is more than twice the size of Texas. Plastic toothbrushes and floss take hundreds of years to decompose, whereas bamboo toothbrushes, now commercially available, only take three months to decompose in your backyard garden. Dentists contribute to this impact on the environment, and we should be among the first responders to avenge it.
Adopting a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t require a huge effort. You can start in dental school, even before you are an advocate in private practice. In April 2018, the Buffalo ASDA Sustainability Committee hosted its first Earth Day celebration event. During this evening CE-accredited event, over 200 dental students, staff, faculty, community dentists and predental students registered and received a free bamboo toothbrush. The keynote speaker, Dr. Lisa Knowles, spoke about easy ways to make a dental office green and eco-friendly, as well as the impact we have on our environment.
Here are some easy ways to be environmentally conscious in school and in your daily life:
Promoting sustainability in dental school
1. Organize a sustainability committee.
2. Promote recycling dental supplies and containers.
3. Switch to bamboo toothbrushes.
Adapting eco-friendly lifestyle habits
1. Try vegetarianism/veganism, even if only one day a week.
2. Use a reusable water bottle.
3. Walk, bike or carpool instead of driving.
4. Get informed. Keep up to date on clean-sweeps and new technology to reduce energy consumption.
Students can contact Buffalo ASDA’s Sustainability Committee for more eco-friendly ideas or information on how to set up sustainable initiatives in your school.
~Emily Waldman and Melissa Stoj, Buffalo ’21