Is floss biodegradable? Can it be composted?

  • Date: September 21, 2022

Flossing has become part of most people’s oral care routine with the majority of us using dental floss at least once a week. Floss from one household may be negligible when thrown in the trash, but when you add all the floss used by all the households across the country (and world) it is not an insignificant amount! To make matters worse – floss is, generally, not biodegradable or suitable for composting. Here we will take a closer look at the current dental floss landscape…

Firstly, what is dental floss made of?

Currently, the majority of dental floss is made from synthetic materials – nylon is the top choice for manufacturers, but it can also be made from Teflon (Polytetrafluoroethylene). These can be coated with wax, or not.

Nylon tends to shred a bit more easily than Teflon floss, but they both have their advantages. Different tooth types and spacing between them have an influence in what floss will be best for each person, we are all unique after all.

An increasing number of natural dental floss types are coming on to the market, giving consumers the option to floss in a more eco-friendly way. Like other oral health products, such as toothbrushes, more natural alternatives are being sought to reduce the amount of plastics that end up in landfill. In the floss world, these alternatives include silk and bamboo.

So, is floss biodegradable?

If a material is biodegradable, it can be broken down naturally by micro-organisms such as bacteria. But there is a catch – only items that have come from nature can return to nature. In the case of dental floss, nylon and Teflon varieties are not, and do not biodegrade. They will breakdown over a long period of time into smaller pieces. This is not an example of biodegradation, instead the pieces of plastic floss will just get smaller and smaller and have the potential to cause chaos in the environment. Natural flosses are, on the other hand, biodegradable.

 It should be noted that although natural floss is biodegradable, it needs suitable conditions. Landfill does not offer these in some cases. Items are often packed into limited space which leads to poor air flow and moisture can be limited. Even the most biodegradable of items can remain in landfill for years. Disposing of biodegradable materials suitably, and avoiding the trash where possible, is extremely important.   

Can you compost floss?

Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste that your household sends to landfill. However, despite being a common misconception, all biodegradable items are not necessarily fit for composting. All compostable items must be biodegradable (ruling out the nylon and Teflon floss types) but not all biodegradable items are compostable! A biodegradable item may, for example, contain chemicals that could contaminate the pile.

In terms of natural flosses, they tend to be fit for composting – they, generally, don’t contain any hazardous chemicals that would cause harm to the end compost fertilizer product (or the plants that it is used on). And even better, their packaging is also more eco-friendly – and in some cases, compostable too!

When it comes to composting, items are categorized as ‘green’ nitrogen-rich or ‘brown’ carbon-rich ingredients. Bamboo and silk floss would fall into the ‘browns’ category – however, since floss is used in such insignificant amounts compared with other household items it will not upset the balance too much. Just throw it in and give the pile a good mix to avoid it blowing away!    

How do you dispose of dental floss?

So, as we have seen, most dental floss cannot be composted due to being made from synthetic materials such as nylon and Teflon. It is not reusable, or recyclable, so the only viable option is for it to be popped in the trash. Opting for a natural alternative is the most environmentally friendly option. The same applies for other oral health items such as toothbrushes – avoid the plastic types, where possible.

The bottom line

Although new varieties are becoming available on the market, synthetic dental floss is the most common type used by households across the country. This poses environmental concerns, particularly when it comes to its disposal. In a nutshell, dental floss that is made from synthetic materials are not biodegradable, whilst those made from natural materials tend to be biodegradable and fit for the compost pile. Always opt for natural floss where possible and compost it to ensure it avoids landfill, if you have the means.