Sustainable lifestyle swaps
We caught up with Jayne Clark-Denyer from Organically Epic, a natural and organic dental brand with a commitment to sustainability. Dental products might not take up much of our attention as their use is so habitual most of us do it on autopilot, but because of this, they represent an easy area to make a sustainable swap in our daily routines.
How much of a problem are standard dental products causing to the environment?
Bearing in mind there are around 60 million people in the UK, and it’s recommended each person goes through 4 toothbrushes a year, that’s about 2-3 hundred million toothbrushes a year on their way to landfill. Of these, many actually end up in the ocean because they’ve fallen off trucks and lorries or been disposed of incorrectly. Because dental products are small items, they’re more dangerous, for example one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen is a seal with a toothbrush stuck up its nose. Toxicity is also a huge problem, with chemicals leaching from the plastic handles into the ocean. Although the impact of the dental industry is minor compared to that of fast fashion, for example, these products are easy to switch for sustainable alternatives and can be done by individuals at home.
Is it difficult to make sustainable dental products that are also effective?
For professional dentists it is harder to shift to eco-friendly tools as they have to be careful of hygiene and contamination. This said, there is a shift from what I’m seeing.
Although sustainable dental products aren’t accessible for everyone in terms of price, for lots of us it’s a case of can but don’t. And yes, it’s not for everybody in terms of texture – obviously this is a problem when we’re talking about something you’re putting in your mouth. But there’s always something you can change, if it’s not your toothbrush, you could change your floss instead.
There are some bad products out there that I’ve come across, which is basically why I launched the brand. When the natural industry first came to the forefront there were some terrible products which had given sustainable products a bad reputation for ineffectiveness. Another barrier is that people think they’re only for the rich, especially as disposable income is more scarce these days.
We use FSC certified bamboo fields, which do get a bit of a bad wrap because they’re in China. But we do use manufacturers that uphold our values and we have certifications to prove it. We are trying to lower our carbon footprint by only shipping in bulk and testing different transport methods including train and boat.
The problem is that plastic is such a useful material, it’s just a shame it’s so bad for the environment. It’s very hard to go up against it. It’s also difficult to make products that perform equally as well – for example cornstarch floss can be rough on your gums so we had to experiment with other materials.
Many toothpastes that are natural are not addressing health issues, just freshening breath. People can have problems with fluoride, which means they need toothpaste without it in. My aim was to make an all round toothpaste that doesn’t include fluoride but still provides effective protection of teeth rather than just freshening or whitening.
What is OE’s mission?
Because there is a lack of dentists (and especially NHS dentists) there are lots of people going without treatment. I want to make it easier for people to look after their own teeth while still being kind to the planet. I like to think I have created a brand that straddles two spheres – efficacy and sustainability.
Nothing is perfect and we’re not ‘zero waste’ – there’s waste for everything but you just have to know how to deal with it responsibly.
Are organic dental products also better for our health?
The jury is out on whether natural products are better for health, but plastic can hold onto bacteria if not properly cleaned (which no one does). On the other hand, bamboo is naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial if you let it dry after using it, and it also keeps the PH in your mouth level if you use it with the right toothpaste.
What is the future of sustainable dental products?
In future there will be and needs to be more research in this area.
I started out distributing organic cosmetics, so I am trained to formulate products. I’ve tried to make the brand as luxurious and coveted as renowned skincare brands.
People want more reusables that have multi-use, for example interdentals that do the same as floss plus more. There’s also a big desire for evidence to back up claims, people are hot on not being greenwashed. Demand for these sorts of products is growing, but with this there is misinformation and people being mis-sold to. It’s common for people to think that any kind of plastic is awful, even where it’s unavoidable.
From my experience, people are more likely to hold small brands to account rather than bigger brands. I get grilled regularly, and there’s been a bit of negativity about our electric toothbrush with the plastic handle, but you do have to compromise occasionally in the name of safety.
There is no perfect product, plus there are lots of technicalities when it comes to dental health – because at the end of the day it’s something that you put in your mouth and there’s so many factors like being waterproof and hygienic.
Check out Organically Epic here!