Going green: How can we as dental professionals make our practice more sustainable?

Date: Dec 07, 2020

Bamboo plant in a black background

According to the Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Australia generated 67 million tonnes of waste in the year 2016-2017 (Australian Government 2020). Dental care, both at home and in the clinic can be seen to produce significant levels of single use waste. With global waste levels rising, what strategies can we as dental professionals implement to decrease the level of landfill associated with oral health care?

Sustainably and minimally packaged oral health products

Sustainably and minimally packaged oral health products have now increasingly become available across supermarkets, pharmacies and in dental practices. Materials commonly used in these products include, bamboo,  for example;  bamboo toothbrushes, and it is of note that companies like Colgate use sustainably grown bamboo. Cardboard is another example, you can opt for your patient take-home packs to be made from cardboard, which can be  recycled, rather than single use plastic bags.   It is also great to see so much innovation in the recyclable plastic space, in fact, the first fully recyclable toothpaste tube  has been launched by Colgate, and this technology will be shared with all dental companies worldwide. 

Each of these materials and innovations,  help in reducing the amount of single use waste that arises from at home dental hygiene practices. These products can be advocated and used within your workplace to empower patients to join the movement in helping to reduce waste.

Clinical Practice

Multiple use clinical equipment can be a fundamental strategy for your workplace to reduce the waste from single use products. Re-processable metal instruments, patient cups, digital x-ray films, and other clinical equipment that can be sterilised and reused ongoing should be strongly considered. Electronic patient records and communications can help to enable practices to aim for paperless operation. Careful organisation and treatment protocols involving all staff can significantly help in ensuring that the equipment set out for each patient is dispensed appropriately and only what is required for the appointment is used. This can help in reducing the changing of PPE by assistants during examinations and treatments also. Not only is our main goal to drive the message of dental disease prevention to our patients to empower them to improve their oral health but, less disease incidence can result in less materials and waste generated from clinical treatments.  A win-win for both patient and clinician!

Colgate’s Terracycle program

Another strategy you can implement is getting your workplace to participate in Colgate’s Terracycle program. The program is a voluntary, opt-in initiative developed through a partnership between Colgate and Terracycle. The program is entirely free for dental clinics to participate in, providing shipping boxes and allowing anyone to drop off used oral health products of any brand that would otherwise be sent to landfill. Such products include toothpaste tubes and caps, manual toothbrushes, electric toothbrush heads, toothbrush and toothpaste tube plastic packaging and floss containers. Electric toothbrush handles and bases can also be recycled but through a separate program here. Once the recycled products are collected at the dental clinic, they can then be sent off to be recycled. Each unit received collects points which can be redeemed for a monetary donation to a not-for-profit organisation or school of your choice. At present there are over 6,000 participating locations across Australia recycling close to 650,000 units of used oral care products and raising over $10,500. The recycled waste is then processed and used in making a range of products such as garden beds and benches for schools (just to name a couple!).

References:

Australian Government, 2020 ‘Reducing waste’, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, viewed 21st October 2020, <https://www.energy.gov.au/households/reducing-waste>.

Terracycle, 2020 ‘Oral Care Recycling Program’, Terracycle, viewed 21st October 2020, <https://www.terracycle.com/en-AU/brigades/oral-care-brigade-au>.

About the author:

William ‘CJ’ Carlson-Jones is an Oral Health Therapist currently practicing in rural South Australia. Completing his Bachelor of Oral Health and Graduate Certificate in Oral Health Science both from the University of Adelaide, CJ is currently undertaking a Master of Business Administration (Health Service Management) with aspirations to facilitate accessible, high quality dental care for all Australians. He is the Finance Director for the Australian Dental & Oral Health Therapists’ Association (ADOHTA) and is a strong advocate for a team approach to dental care. He is a founding representative on the Colgate Advocates for Oral Health: Editorial Community.