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Eco-Dentistry Association addresses dental disposables

July 30, 2010
Associatio says disposables help perpetuate petroleum dependency.
BERKELEY, California--According to the Eco-Dentistry Association, an international association that promotes environmentally sound practices in dentistry, the widespread use of disposable dental supplies helps perpetuate the country’s dependency on petroleum because single-use plastics are made from oil.According to Susan Beck, director of the Eco-Dentistry Association, “The oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is causing many Americans to consider the true risk and cost of pollution-based energy. The dental industry can show leadership by helping curtail our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels.”It’s not just about turning off the lights. Many dental practitioners don’t think about the “embodied energy” hiding in everyday dental supplies, such as chair covers and sterilization pouches. “Embodied energy represents all the energy used in the life cycle of an item, from raw material to its final resting place,” explained Beck. “The biggest offenders for hidden embodied energy in the typical dental office are disposables. Because disposables are by definition single-use, the return on the energy investment for the product is extremely low. Tremendous energy resources are used to extract raw materials, which are generally petroleum-based, to create a product that is manufactured, packaged, shipped, stored, and then shipped again to a dental practice to be used once. Additional energy is consumed to transport that product to a landfill, where it may sit for thousands of years,” stated Beck.The EDA recommends choosing reusable dental supplies wherever possible. For example, a single plastic sterilization pouch represents nearly 60 watts of embodied energy (, which is the same amount of energy as leaving a 60-watt incandescent lightbulb turned on for 5 hours.An average dental office can use as many as 55 plastic sterilization bags per day, which equates to leaving a 60-watt incandescent lightbulb on for 11.5 days. By the end of the year, the practice would have utilized enough energy, in plastic pouches alone, to fuel a 60-watt incandescent bulb nonstop for six years and three months. Conversely, a dental office would have to use a cloth pouch more than 4,800 times before it would have used the energy represented by one plastic pouch. Even without adding in the cost of embodied energy to the dental supplies invoice, many practitioners are surprised to find that disposables actually increase supply costs. For instance, a large disposable autoclave pouch costs about 20 cents per use while a reusable pouch costs about half as much per use. Disposable items for infection control and sterilization can cost a dental practice as much as $2,337 per year more than an office making the greener choice of reusable items. What’s more, choosing disposable paper or plastic rinse and swish cups instead of reusable substitutes can cost a practice $178 or more per year, even when the cost of a dishwasher is included in the assessment. One member of the Eco-Dentistry Association reports a reduction in materials costs of up to 30% after shifting to energy-conserving supplies. Here are three steps dental practices can take to reduce its dependency on disposables and save money:(1) Switch to reusable infection control barriers and sterilization pouches made of cloth. Choose plastic-free, FDA-registered brands and follow the EDA’s Best Practices for Waste-Reducing, Pollution-Preventing Sterilization and Infection Control.(2) Choose reusable rinse and swish cups. You’ll not only help eliminate wasted embodied energy, but it is also a way to reflect practice personality. Some EDA members use small teacups; others use a glass shot glass.(3) If you don’t choose reusables, choose compostables. Although disposable, compostable plastics are made from plants rather than petroleum they require less energy to produce and decompose relatively quickly.The biggest bang for a dentist’s buck comes from a reusable item. The more times it is used, the lower the embodied energy cost, and the higher the return on your energy investment. Don’t forget that once an item’s life cycle is complete in the dental office, it doesn’t mean it’s ready for the grave. Many EDA dental practice members donate their reusable cloth items to animal shelters to extend the item’s life. This contributes to meeting a community need. More information can be found at read more about the Eco-Dentistry Association, go to Eco-Dentistry Association.To comment on this topic, go to available from association upon request.