Week 26 – Oral Health

Sometimes it feels a bit like we are locked in some epic struggle in our efforts to transform the bathroom into a rubbish free zone. We have won many battles: cleaning products, soap, shampoo and shaving to name a few, but the battle over oral health is still raging! This week I went to the dentist to have a filling replaced that had fallen out. During the course of the check up the dentist asked if there had been any major changes in my diet or the way I looked after my teeth as there were some tiny holes appearing on the side of my teeth. It was at that point that the assistant outed me as being one half of the couple doing the rubbish free year, and that she had heard that we were making our own toothpaste. In what felt remarkably like confession, I told all, and surprisingly did receive a type of absolution. My dentist was not too concerned with the homemade toothpaste pointing out that baking soda is still used in some brands of toothpaste, albeit a bit concerned with the overly abrasive nature of the salt. Her main issue was the lack of fluoride, which I’ve since discovered is quite a contentious issue. The blessing and curse of the internet becomes rapidly apparent when one tries to get to the bottom of these sorts of debates and after going back and forth I have decided to put my faith in my dentist and fluoride my teeth. I was able to buy from the pharmacy 100 fluoride tablets for $10 which I dissolve in water and swish about my mouth for two minutes each night. I’ll head back before the end of the challenge in six months and get an update on whether that has helped.

Toothpaste is only half the story though as the toothbrush saga is yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion. In other blogs we have mentioned some of the struggles but just to re-cap: When the challenge started we had new toothbrushes which lasted about three months and are now being used in the laundry for cleaning. Although this only equals four toothbrushes each over the year we are keen to be as close to zero as possible so the search started for a ‘landfill destined free’ toothbrush and packaging. Our initial attempt involved getting wooden toothbrushes from Brooks in Switzerland that are able to be put in the compost to break down. Unfortunately these came in solid number six plastic containers, were quite uncomfortable to use and having a straight handle it was difficult to reach the wisdom teeth. Next stop was Preserve toothbrushes from Boston, USA. They are made from recycled yoghurt containers, are really nice to use, clean well, and when finished with can be posted back to the manufacturer to be recycled into picnic tables. However, the obvious issue of carbon miles became even more obvious with the inclusion of a hand written note from the customer relations person at Preserve who suggested we buy local rather than having a single toothbrush shipped from Boston to New Zealand. Alternatively, we could buy in bulk in the same way we have for the dental floss and become distributors, however, this doesn’t really solve the carbon footprint issue. Ideally it would be great if the local market was able to support the local manufacture of such a toothbrush here – if you are involved in the manufacturing industry feel free to steal this idea!

Continuing on from last week’s medical waste theme, this week our lovely 12yr old dog, Jess, needed a visit to the vet due to a skin infection The vet suggested a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, the tablets come in a foil and plastic composite, so to show our commitment to being rubbish free we had her put down to avoid the waste…no, no, just joking…Jess has lost her status as rubbish free dog but remains very much alive with a cleared up skin infection and the packaging has been added to our collection.

Researching Alternatives

In the lead up to the Rubbish Free Year challenge we are of course trying to create as little rubbish as possible, but there is a persistent myriad of mostly plasticy things filling our bin. The following catergorises the offending items into food, toiletries, stationery and misc. Looking at both the problem and the solution.

Food

Food relentlessly reappears as a rubbish problem every week. Food packaging is our household’s biggest contributor to the landfill, (the food itself is easily dealt with). We have so far come up with several ways of obtaining food without its non-recyclable packaging.

Product comparison: By simply comparing products a solutions may be found. For example I thought buying herbs and spices would require sourcing bulk produce, but upon closer inspection I realized that Gregg’s cardboard box range is completely plastic free. Another problem I assumed was moisturizer, but once I actually checked a few I found one large recyclable plastic #2 bottle that I think should see out the year (or more). Consider loose fruit and veg (with your own bags), tins rather than frozen, glass jars rather than plastic.

Bulk food stores: To make the most of these places you need to be well organised (which we aren’t yet!). Places like Bin Inn provide plastic bags (which defeats the purpose) but its pretty easy to reuse bags or make your own more durable ones. I am also taking my own containers, and refilling with its original contents, e.g refilling an olive oil bottle with olive oil. I am still looking around op shops for big glass jars suitable for housing rice etc. Our local Bin Inn was a place I had meant to go for years, even now we still haven’t actually shopped there, as it seems like such a big deal. But it will be a life saver next year; aside from items like dried fruit, seeds, nuts, flours, rice, pasta they also have honey, jam, soy sauce, bleach, spray n wipe, jif, liquid hand soap… If ‘ethical’, ‘local’, and ‘organic’ are music to your ears then you could try out your local eco grocery store too, we can get a wide range at our local, Piko Wholefoods (corner Kilmore and Barbadoes) http://www.pikowholefoods.co.nz/

Butcher, Baker, Green Grocer: Smaller stores seem to be easier on the packaging. I imagine they would be happy let you take their produce away in your own container, or in something recyclable.

Farmer’s Markets and Organic vege box: A great way to avoid packaging is to get it straight from the source. We are hoping to get cheese this way – because anything else will be a no go. Its cheaper, fresher, local… its all good. If you can get on to a Vege Box Delivery scheme in your neighbourhood then thats the easiest thing of all.

Baking: If all else fails!!! We both like preparing and eating home made food, we just struggle to get organized and to find the time. Things that will fall into this category will be: biscuits, cake, muesli bars, hummus, pesto. We are thinking of having an evening once a week allocated to the task. See how we go, so far I have at least gone out and bought baking tins and measuring equipment…

Abstinence: Yup, there will be certain yummy things that we may just have to do with out 😦

Toiletries

• Toothpaste and deodorant: We found almost 100% recyclable packaging with a natural health companies products, Weleda (bought at the wholefood store).

• Toothbrush: Don’t know yet.

• Toilet paper: So far have just found one company using paper to package, Safe (available at the wholefood store)

• Soap: easy enough to buy in paper, having to by single bars though. Trade Aid soap is packaged in recycled paper and a little waxed paper bag. Cheap too.

• Shampoo and Conditioner: Check for recyclable plastic, or use bulk dispensers. Some quite good brands are available.

• Dental Floss: Don’t know yet.

• Headache pills: Don’t know yet. But honey is good. So is sleep and having a stress free life!

• Shaving: Electric Shaver or blade shave (wow)

• Period products: Mooncup (reuseable cup, comfortable and convenient) washable pads. (I haven’t researched either of these properly yet but I am sure you can buy it all online.

• Make up: check for recyclable packaging. Use less? Google what Cleopatra used? Ask your grandma?

Stationery

• The humble pencil is simple genius

• Pens with refillable cartridges, not disposable ones

• No vivids (permanent markers), try pen, pencil or paint.

• No felt tip pens, try colouring pencils, crayons etc (artist quality products have excellent colours and will last for years)

• Blutack, metal drawing pins and paper clips

• Wooden rulers, steel staplers, card ring-binders etc

• No twink (correction fluid). What did people do before twink?

• No sticky tapes, except for masking tape

• Real brown string, not plastic string

Misc.

In addition to most of the short life span items mentioned above, there are other slow rotating items, that will, over the course of a year give up, empty out, wear out, and break down. Batteries are a great example, instead of continually throwing them we bought a recharger (only $30 on Trade Me). But this is a huge category of products that we are only very recently starting to think about. Many things that used to last for decades, even a life time are now so cheap, and poorly made that we almost think of them as disposable, think about paintbrushes, buckets, seed trays, shoes, water bottles and other longer lasting things like electric jugs, toasters, toys, electronics and clothes. Next time we replace something if we can afford it we will buy quality, non plastic products that might just last us a life time. And if its non plastic its probably recyclable when it does break down. If we can’t afford it we could try buying second hand, to save something from the land fill, and we can sell it if /when we get the money to buy something better.