Minimalish: Misadventures in Zero Waste Dentistry

In the last couple of weeks I’ve covered fandom and the ethics of getting vaccinated, so let’s chill for a bit and talk about teeth. Okay, not teeth, teeth are strange. Let’s talk about dental products. I’ve been experimenting with zero waste products and I thought, since I like talking about minimalism and the planet, but I’m not living in a field with a compostable toilet and no electricity, I might offer a good ‘basic consumer’ perspective?

I should start with a couple of things. Firstly, I have a huge guilt complex about plastic and non-biodegradable waste. I mean, we all should, but I feel bad every time I chuck something in the regular bin that isn’t recyclable or might be recyclable in some areas if you say four prayers and leave an offering for the bin collectors. Anything that comes in non-plastic or reusable packaging piques my interest. So I really wanted solid toothpaste and aluminium-bottle mouthwash to work, but I’m aware that a lot of you would be less invested in their success than I was.

Secondly, I thought buying solid toothpaste, aluminium-bottle mouthwash and refillable, non-nylon dental floss would be cheaper than the regular stuff in the long run. It is not. Lots of zero waste toiletries do work out cheaper in the long term (my reusable cotton face pads, safety razor and solid soap have definitely saved me money) but alternative dental products are firstly more expensive than their mainstream counterparts and secondly seem smaller, so they don’t last as long. I am sort of regretting the cash I put down on some pieces, especially after I saw my dentist recently and he confirmed my suspicions that they are, um, not worth it. But we’ll get to that. Let’s start with something I do think is worth swapping!

Dental Floss

I’ve tried a couple of ‘alternative’ dental flosses. I’m currently using the Georganics charcoal dentil floss, made with corn and vegetable wax. I didn’t choose or pay for it initially, as it was a Christmas present, but I like it. It’s nicer to use than a different eco-friendly floss I tried last summer, which was made of corn and candelilla wax. It was uncoated, so it felt less like flossing and more like hauling twine through my teeth. I like the Georganics one though. It comes in a little refillable jar which is quite sweet (and very durable. I’ve dropped it a lot and it hasn’t smashed). I’ve bought refill and although it’s pricey, especially with postage, I think it might last longer than the usual stuff. I haven’t run the numbers though; in a pinch I’d switch back to the mainstream single use plastic versions, knowing that I’ve not bought them when I could.

Oil pulling mouthwash bottle, glass dental floss jar and solid toothpaste jar by Georganics, on a blue blanket.
Really should have photographed these before they got bathroom-y.

Toothpaste

My first foray into zero waste toothpaste was with tooth tabs, last summer. For the uninitiated, they’re little tablets that come in a refillable aluminium tin. They look like mints; their main ingredient is calcium carbonate. There is a slight issue with tooth tabs in that they work when activated by water: you pop one in your mouth, wet your toothbrush and scrub. It doesn’t froth or give you that zingy clean feeling, which on reflection I quite like, but I thought they were okay-ish… until my tin got damp and they all turned to sludge. A non-airtight tin sheltering water-activated products is a bit of a design flaw when that tin lives in a bathroom…

Solid toothpaste, which also uses calcium carbonate, seemed a better bet, so I tried some in January. It resembles toothpaste, right? Except… the first thing I thought of when I opened it was that it reminded me of concrete. It might not remind you of concrete, so don’t let that put you off. But we were not off to an auspicious start. Solid toothpaste works similarly to regular toothpaste: put a pea sized bit on your brush, wet the brush, scrubby scrubby. I thought it would slide out of the jar, like face cream or tube toothpaste, and onto your toothbrush. Maybe I’m doing it wrong (are you supposed to use a spoon?) but it has the consistency of solidified porridge. I sort of scraped it out of the jar and onto the toothbrush. It’s a bit messy, like plaster; I felt a bit like I was scrubbing my gums off.

I saw my dentist a couple of weeks ago and asked if it’s worth persevering with, given the plasteryness and lack of fluoride. Short answer: it isn’t. Apparently the relative amount of plastic in the standard toothpaste tube (which can be recycled in some places) isn’t really worth the swap given that eco-friendly toothpaste’s long term health benefits aren’t clear. Also, I had this crack in my tooth enamel or something, so I have to use fancy toothpaste for a while to stop my mouth exploding in pain every time I drink something cold. Even if I loved the solid toothpaste, toothache treatment has to come before the planet because I can’t do shit for the environment if my teeth have fallen out.

Mouthwash

I couldn’t get on with alternative mouthwash, but that was on me from the get go. I thought I was buying ‘normal’ mouthwash except in an aluminium bottle. It turned out to be ‘oil pulling mouthwash.’ Oil pulling, I have since learnt, is an alternative medicine. My opinions on alternative medicine can be summarised thus:

I made this! By myself! It’s from Tim Minchin’s Storm the Animated Movie, which is a nine minute beat poem about an atheist meeting a hippie at a dinner party.

You’re also supposed to swish for 20 minutes. I know there’s a pandemic on, but I don’t have 20 minutes to to swish. As I said, my dentist explained that there isn’t a lot of info around about long term impacts of these new organic/zero waste/alternative dental products, and he reckons in years to come, people might present with issues. Oil pulling is an ‘ancient practice,’ sure, but so is bloodletting. I’m too vain to risk the quality of my gnashers; the hassle around my braces alone has ensured a lifelong desire to keep these teeth as nice as possible. Also it turns out you can get regular (or more regular?) mouthwash in aluminium bottles, so I might give that a go when I have some extra cash.

In conclusion: continuing with one out of five potential products doesn’t sound great, but I’m glad I tried them all. I imagine their prices will come down as more sustainable brands enter supermarkets, and as the Colgates of the world improve their packaging. I do most of my eco-friendly shopping on Wearth, by the way, they’re a UK-based platform that offers carbon neutral delivery and, if you are so inclined, this referral link (this isn’t a sponsored post; I’m sharing the code from my personal account thing. It has something to do with points). Some of the brands Wearth stocks are selling products that you don’t need if you’re smart about your consumption, or use everyday products for multiple purposes (I don’t need a £23 refillable conditioner when I use olive oil on my hair like the financially-stretched Mediterranean grandma I’m evolving into), but they’re worth checking out. If you have the money to spend experimenting with zero waste toiletries, go for it. If you don’t, don’t feel bad: there are other things you can do to decrease your consumption.

Right, I need a cup of tea. I’m not sure what I’ll be discussing next week: I thought about writing something about Sarah Everard or the royals, but there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said more eloquently already. Both those topics are heavy, as well, and I’d like to keep it light for my own mental health. Maybe I’ll do a book post. We’ll see.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Here is the rest of the Minimalish series.

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I Spent 10 Minutes Trying to Title This and Couldn’t So Um Here Are 2 ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ GIFs and a Brief Mention of Income Tax

I Spent 10 Minutes Trying to Title This and Couldn’t So Um Here Are 2 ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ GIFs and a Brief Mention of Income Tax

Shhh, don’t tell anyone you saw me. I’ve blocked my emails from my phone for the Easter Weekend, so I am officially off the grid. Ish. I am supposed to be recovering from a monster cold I had last week and catching up with course work, but I’ve actually gone shopping, reorganised my Etsy cupboard and had a medium nap. HAPPY JESUS WEEKEND!

Tim Minchin as Judas, Jesus Christ Superstar, footshuffle gif
from lisce.tumblr.com

I love Easter, mostly because it’s the only weekend other than Christmas when I can eat more than I check my emails without thinking I’m losing business, but it’s also got that new year feel to it, because the new tax year is next week. I love the new tax year. It’s a fresh start! An opportunity to make more money and to remind HMRC that I am a valued member of society. Well not really because I earn a fraction of the acceptable wage for most adult humans, so I’m not eligible for income tax, but next year might be the year!

Tim Minchin as Judas Iscariot dancing
from licse.tumblr.com

I’ll stop with the Jesus Christ Superstar gifs now, but I want you to know that I don’t really want to.

Speaking of the new tax year, I’ve got a little end of year clear out/sale thing going on over at my Etsy – there’s 10% and 15% off almost everything. Out with the old and in with the new! If I have space for the new… which is why I’ve discounted the old. It’s also the last day of the month, so if you were thinking of pledging to my Patreon to help support dragonnovel, (becoming patron number three would be seen as highly auspicious in some cultures. Not mine, but some), today’s the last day to do it before April’s cycle starts.

I’ve run out of gifs, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and stare longingly at my Easter eggs. Because Easter Sunday is Peak Jesus Day and my mother always insists on upholding Christian tradition despite last going to church circa 2010, I can’t touch an Easter egg until Sunday morning. I have no idea why I can’t break that tradition, despite being a) 22.5 years old, b) an atheist and c) hungry, but there you go. Happy Easter!

Packing – Or Not – Some Bags

I always get a bit confused after a bank holiday – the joy of long weekend is kind of negated by not knowing what day it is for the rest of the week. So to make myself feel efficient in the face of uncertanity I’ve been adapting my Society6 and Etsy shops a little bit. Etsy will be completely digital after 30th September because I’m out of the UK for a month and posting physical items will be a bit tricky. Have a look at both sites to see if anything tickles your fancy.

Oh, Francesca, where are you going?

Eh nowhere special. Just Greece.

Just kidding.

From lisce.tumblr.com
From lisce.tumblr.com

I’m excited as my friends are to be going to university, which is to say slightly nervous but ready to make an important change to long term living arrangements.

There’s so much to do. Normally I pack two days before a trip maximum, but this time I have to think about the things I don’t want to be without for a month. Apart from the dogs (apparently they have to stay home, pfft), that’s mostly work stuff.

You know, my computer.

Which is a mishmash of ergonomic writing gear, a TV screen, an external hard drive and a small-but-still-sizeable PC tower. Apart from the keyboard and mouse none of that will fit in a suitcase or be physically transportable, which leaves me with a few options:

  1. Take my iPad and beforehand find an app or piece of tech that allows me to plug in the keyboard, mouse and hard drive
  2. Get a cheap-as netbook and plug in the keyboard, mouse and hard drive
  3. Just get a netbook and take the risk that by using a normal keyboard I won’t take ten steps back physio-wise
  4. Attempt all business from my phone.

Personally I favour option one because it doesn’t involve taking out a loan or wrecking my muscles. I suppose I could lug everything I normally use a thousand miles in a lot of bubble wrap, but that would involve paying EasyJet a billion quid for extra weight allowance and that’s not including clothes and stuff.

Hmmm.

Okay I’m off to move cardboard boxes out of my bedroom and maybe have a shower (I thought at 10:30am “I’ll do some work then have a shower.” It’s now 5:40pm). If anyone knows where I can get hold of Hermione’s beaded bag, let me know.

Going Back to Hell 101

No one ever did confess to being under the age of 11 so I’m going to assume you guys are in the same-ish age bracket as me and are school-age. By ‘school age’ I mean ‘in compulsory education’. I’m technically university age but am also technically on a gap year and I don’t have a clue how you degree-types work so I’m going to assume you guys have your shit together because this post is a guide to…

Going Back to Hell*

*In this instance “hell” can be taken to mean “school”.

Let’s level with each other first of all. I kind of hated school. I liked to learn – mostly – but I loathed deadlines and homework and pressure (seven years in a grammar school and a talent for being too conscientious made for one mini heart palpitation per day and cold sweats every fortnight. Oh, I’m kind of tense? Really? Ihadn’tnoticedI’monadeadlinefuckoffI’mfine). My favourite parts of lessons were when you could have conversations with friends and the teacher and learn without realising you were learning. Too bad it took until year 13 for that teaching method to really be okay with senior management…

So I was always reluctant to go back to school after the holidays. Every holiday, up to and including Easter 2014, I dreaded not just the first day back but all the days until my next piece of freedom. Once I was there I was fine. But I always resented my school for not being more like Hogwarts or Camp Half-Blood. (Why can’t we have 12 Christmas trees and a lava wall? What is wrong with singing furniture and classes lead by students with the best monster-killing record?)

In retrospect, not fully embracing my fate as a pupil at an all-girls English grammar school probably set me back. No lesbian jokes please.

Because when I think about it, if I had fully considered the workload, if I had understood that sometimes you have to play the game in order to finish it – woa I’ve been watching too much sport – I would have made the correct preparations. In, say, August.

Since I care very much that you all don’t spend nine months of your life wanting to stab your eyes out with you HB pencil, I have put together a short list about how anyone – yep, even you with your weird as shit academic situation – can make school slightly less shit. You’re welcome.

Step 1: Prepare

Did Mo Farrah just turn up to the Olympic Stadium and go for a jog to win those medals in 2012? No. I presume he planned that gig, preparing himself for the utter tedium of a 5 billion lap run. He was not taken by surprise by the circus he was in.

From madmanmadeofstraw.tumblr.com
From madmanmadeofstraw.tumblr.com

So let’s confront the facts: you have to go to school. No matter how late you stay up playing Sims pretending tomorrow is Saturday, you’re going to have to get yourself out of bed and learn some information at an absurdly early hour. Take a moment to fully appreciate this, since acceptance that you have a problem is the first step to solving it. (I hear the same concept applies to quitting drugs.)

Now you’ve faced the butt-ugly truth, it’s time to review your physical belongings. Your uniform if you have one. Your bag. Your pencil case. It has been pointed out to me that I buy more time buying stationery than I do clothes, which is totally justifiable because you can’t see every piece of clothing you wear but you do have to get your pencil case out five times a day, five days a week. So it’s got to look damn cute and actually hold pencils for more than a term. Now get yourself down to Staples and if your parents don’t want to pay for functional equipment, point out that if fineliners are the tools of Oscar winners, you need them to not fail A Levels.

Step 2: Organise

… and stay organised for as long as possible. That goes for setting deadlines, completing projects, revising for exams, planning your actual life around school, etc. You will definitely fuck up somewhere along the line – I once forgot to go on a school trip; Ellen forgot to go to an AS module. But you can keep your shit together for more than the first week of September by doing one teeny tiny thing: using the brain cells you just exercised in class to remember all the stuff you have to get done. Or if that’s not your gig, then by utilising your school planner and covering your calendar in so many notes it looks like a courtroom puked. Use colour coding if it helps/you want your calendar to look like pride week puked. Keep your timetable safe. Keep your passwords noted. If you’re planning to skip school to see your favourite band play in Camden, do that day’s work in advance. That way you’ll get to see JBiebs or Green Day or whoever floats your boat and your teachers won’t think you’re a delinquent arsehole for missing a topic for the immortal sight of Jimmy Urine sticking a phone down his pants.

For the record I never skipped class for a band. MSI was playing Camden on a godly scheduled teacher training day. No one had to negotiate homework to see Jimmy do something freaky.**

Ah, regrets.

Step 3: Retain Your Sense of Humour

 Sometimes your attitude toward the dickheads with whom you spend 35 hours a week is this:

From let-it-be-infinite.tumblr.com
From let-it-be-infinite.tumblr.com

Sometimes you and your non-dickhead friends will experience this attitude:

Intense Contemplation black-white-and-perfect.tumblr
From black-white-and-perfect.tumblr.com

But mostly you’ll be like this:

Psychos from clairedelunes.tumblr.com
From clairedelunes.tumblr.com

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is compulsory reading for anyone who’s school age, by the way. But seriously, the ability to laugh will get you through those lessons where the clock has definitely slowed down or the lunchtimes when your friends are gloating that they got higher marks in some test no one will remember in two years’ time. You might be laughing at yourself or the situation you’re in or maybe at somebody else (don’t be a dickhead to others to make yourself feel better though, it’s very year six).

Sometimes things will be very grey and if you’re having more than just a few low days, do everyone a favour and talk to someone – turns out teachers are people too, how about that – because if you’re going to get through school it should be in one relatively happy piece.

So there we have it.

Three golden nuggets of advice to make your life superduper perfect less shit. Hopefully.

**For the record, I can’t remember if Jimmy did actually put a phone in his pants. I do know, however, that he fake-called the Queen.