The public is increasingly aware of the harm that commercial single-use plastic products do to wildlife and the environment. I mean, if getting your grande iced, sugar-free, vanilla latte with soy milk at Starbucks with a paper straw doesn’t scream save the turtles to you, I don’t know what else can. As we become aware of our “plastic” footprint in our personal lives, a light is shining more on plastic waste in clinic and dental settings.
I get uncomfortable seeing the amount of single-use plastic waste produced for each patient every day in clinic. Daily items we use contribute to the problem such as plastic cups, plastic barriers, plastic tips for suctions and even plastic bitewing covers seem small when you go through just one patient. The thought frightens me, though, when I think about how much waste I will personally generate throughout my professional career as a dentist.
It’s a no-brainer that single-use plastics are convenient, affordable and help with cross-infection control, but we need to start practicing sustainability in the clinical setting. As green dentistry practices become more common in the professional community, let’s talk about ways we can reduce waste in the dental setting, in light of International Plastic Bag-Free Day, which took place July 3.
- Autoclave items: Dental practices can invest in using items that are metal or autoclavable plastic, instead of plastic or other one-time-use materials. This applies to reusable prophy cups, air/water tips and suction tips. For example, clinics can switch their single-use plastic impression trays to reusable/autoclavable stainless steel impression trays.
- Recyclable dental items: Dental clinics can consider reusing and recycling non-autoclavable items such as cardboard boxes that were used for packaging. Recycling items in your office can reduce the amount of waste going to the landfills. Your office can also look into recycling broken dental instruments or instruments that have become too thin to sharpen.
- Compostable bags: Instead of plastic bags for waste disposal, dental clinics can use compostable bags. These bags are biodegradable, made from natural materials such as vegetable starches, so they break down in the environment easier than plastics.
- Bamboo toothbrushes and biodegradable floss picks: Eco-friendly bamboo toothbrushes are one of the little ways to make a big difference due to being naturally biodegradable. In fact, evidence-based research has shown that switching from traditional toothbrushes to bamboo is environmentally sustainable. These can be given to patients as gifts after their visit. After-all, who doesn’t like bamboo?
Encouraging these green dentistry practices gives customer satisfaction, office satisfaction and promotes long-term cost saving. Using your voice and day-to-day choices to acknowledge the problem of single-use plastic waste in clinic settings can be a small action to make a bigger difference in the world.
~Jasmin Tarakmi, Nova Southeastern ‘24