Reduce Single-use Plastics

Single use plastic dental clinics
Single use plastic dental clinics

Dentistry, like many other medical fields, has to use several types of single-use plastic products. If we just have a quick look at our surgery, in less than 3 seconds we will be able to spot more than 5 single-use plastic items. The the problem is that some of them are protective barriers, but also as part of the instruments and materials used for treatments. 

Looking to the future, when reflecting on the positive path that the world is taking, the questionable and unnecessary use of plastics in the dental practice has to be a topic of discussion within the profession.

Starting from barriers, small things such as the plastic head rest protectors can be easily swapped for paper or cellulose options. Regarding PPE, swapping from single-use gowns to washable ones has a major impact on the carbon foot print as reusing is always better than recycling (especially when there is no option for recycling clinical waste!).

The majority of plastic cups are made from polystyrene, and a single plastic cup can take up to 1,000 years to break down into micro-plastics in landfills and in our oceans. Although the price of swapping those alternatives to paper can be between 2–13% more expensive than the plastic options, the environmental impact decreases considerably due to the paper cups’ being biodegradable. If the option we choose is recycled paper, the benefit (and carbon foot print) is even better. Having said that, the best alternative would definitely be stainless steel autoclavable cups, but there is not a single supplier in the UK that can provide us with this option….at the moment. The dental profession really must be more inventive in this area, whilst putting pressure on our suppliers to do the same. 

It should be easy to swap single-use three-in-one, suction tips, and impression trays as most of the dental providers have stainless steel, autoclavible alternatives.

Another thing that is currently drastically decreasing the amount of impression materials used is the use of intraoral scanners. This not only improves the way we can all work but also reduces the use of plastics (trays and impression materials) and decreases by 50% the carbon footprint that transporting the parcel from the practice to the lab creates (as now only one trip is needed instead of two).

Other educational modules on this website cover equipment and how to reduce our carbon footprint by introducing slight changes. It would be great to have your ideas shared in the comments section below so that others can learn from your experiences.

Little steps can achieve longer distances!

Dr Yasmin Anaboussi de Santiago (BDS)

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