Single use Plastic in Dentistry – the Three ‘R’s


Single use Plastic in Dentistry – the Three ‘R’s



Elaine Tilling

Clinical Education & Project Manager

TePe Oral Hygiene Products Ltd


As professions, the medical and dental communities, by necessity, use and encourage the use of single use items on a daily basis. These items often contain plastic because it is an inexpensive, safe and hygienic material to use. The disposal of this waste has, quite rightly, become a major issue for us all! The disposal and breakdown of plastics in the environment is not quite as acceptable as we thought. The vast majority of medical and dental waste goes into landfill – sharps and hazardous waste are incinerated. Roughly 50% of the resulting by-product of incineration can be re-used as energy or as ash filler for road making, leaving 50% to go to landfill.


I would consider myself a responsible individual that cares for the environment – washing, reusing, recycling and disposing of items responsibly and according to our local waste management guidelines. But is this enough? Where does the journey for the non-biodegradable items end? On a beach? In the World’s Oceans? Who knew that our small but considered efforts to be responsible could have such a devastating effect on our planet? Putting the issues of blame and politics aside, what can we do about this now on both a personal and professional level?

Personally, I need tobecome more aware of my purchases, and how items are packaged (Reduce) and ensure that what I no longer need is sent to the charity shop (Re-use) and what cannot be put to good use, dispose of responsibly and hope that it is able to biodegrade to a level that will not harm the environment. Recycling products that are made up from more than one component is not yet an option in the UK as we do not have the facilities at the moment. Butpragmatically, and to quote Meatloaf, “two out of three aint bad” ..every little helps. Our infrastructure in the UK for waste management is improving simply because it has to – we do need to be able to recycle essential everyday items such as health and hygiene products like toothbrushes and interdental brushes.

On a professional level, I know that TePe’s brand values are health, knowledge and sustainable quality. As a forward thinking company we have been ISO 1400 accredited for several years now. The ISO 1400 ‘family ‘ of standards seeks to ensure that organisations manage their environment responsibilities from labelling and packaging, to environmental challenges such as climate change. Our head-office in Sweden is the largest solar powered plant in Malmo with 100% of the energy used today coming from renewable sources.

We have been sourcing sustainable materials for some time and evaluating the effect of these materials on the quality and efficacy of our products. Like humans, nature balances itself by consuming and replacing energy. Sustainable practices and materials seek to reduce and replace a maximum of energy in nature and in turn reduce the impact on the planets natural balance. We are absolutely committed to launching new products that meet the stringent high quality standards required for an oral hygiene product whilst also having a minimal impact on our environment.

We are not there yet, as plastic is a safe, hygienic material that is widely available and used throughout the health industry for those very reasons – the replacement options for plastics are limited and are in high demand but we are certainly committed to being a part of the solution to this problem.

We all have a responsibility to the environment and the team at TePe take our share of the responsibility very seriously.



Q. How does the TePe brand rate against their competitors in terms of environmental impact?

A. TePe does not undertake communication based on comparison with competitor products. We prefer to focus on all the advantages of our products. We use the minimum amount of plastic possible in our product design (REDUCE) and have a very efficient process for recycling materials in our manufacturing process (RECYCLE) As a brand we are dedicated to introducing sustainable material in both product and packaging as soon as possible – but always with hygiene, quality and function as first priority. More information can be found in our sustainability report on the intranet: report

Q. Does TePe offer a more environmentally friendly option for ID cleaning?

A. Our wooden interdental sticks is where TePe started and this range of ID cleaning tool is still produced and sold worldwide. Whilst it cannot compare with the efficacy of the gold standard IDB’s for plaque removal, a TePe Interdental stick will disrupt the supra-gingival biofilm in a similar way to our TePe EasyPick™. Made from sustainable sources, the TePe Wooden Interdental sticks do offer a plastic-free option for those that seek one.

Q. Are TePe IDB’s recyclable?

A. Its component parts are yes, but they do need to be taken apart, which for many is not an option. The UK currently does not have infrastructure in place to recycle products that are composed of more than one material. Moreover, there is currently no single recycling policy that applies to all areas of the country and so we advise that our customers seek the advice of their local recycling plant for information on specific recycling arrangements. We do encourage all of our users to dispose of our products and packaging responsibly.

Q. Are the plastics used in the TePe products biodegradable?

A. In as much as they will biodegrade over many years, yes! But all plastics take many years to naturally break down and we now know that the biodegraded particles of plastics can have an adverse effect on the environment. This issue is a key problem for all manufacturers who use plastic materials and for the users of such products. TePe is committed to joining the global efforts to source and develop more environmentally friendly options. In health care, we do have to meet exacting standards of hygiene and quality in our products which currently limit our choices for replacement materials. Please be assured that TePe is working towards finding a suitable solution.


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