Brushing your teeth – not something you really think about is it? At least twice a day, for as long as you can remember. It is so intrinsically part of all our routines, very few of us give it a second thought. However, when it comes to those dental kits found inside amenity kits, this everyday action is an acute reminder of the complications airlines and suppliers face when creating something suitable for every passenger, and the environment.
Today we are all more aware of the world around us. We are aware that plastic pollution is now creating an impact on the world that we must now fight to reverse. Our natural habitats are endangered, and wildlife is fighting for survival due to the impact humans have on the planet. As an example, by 2050 it is believed that there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.
Airlines are constantly striving to reduce their impact on our increasingly fragile environment, and passengers are starting to hold their carriers to account. When it comes to amenity kits, creating something that passengers want, filled with items they need for a long journey, whilst also being environmentally conscious, is proving a challenge – and the simple dental kit is a good starting point.
It is estimated that the average toothbrush takes 1000 years to decompose, and a typical person will use up to 300 of them in their lifetime. Unfortunately, the ones currently provided are often small, flimsy, with bristles that either fall out, or are too soft to provide that sought after ‘just brushed feeling’, and are thrown away after just one use. This is leading to unnecessary plastic waste that generally will end up in landfills, or in our oceans.
So what is the answer? How to airlines provide a product that suits their budgets, whilst being fit for purpose, and saving the planet?
‘Biodegradable toothbrushes!’ I hear you all cry. Well, yes, this is certainly an option. However, not without its downfalls. Yes you can replace plastic handles with wood or corn starch but the bristles remain plastic. The only way to make the toothbrush biodegradable would be to use pig, badger or other natural, animal bristles, which are considered too harsh and abrasive for our sensitive teeth and gums, and certainly won’t keep the vegan passengers happy.
Dr Mervyn Druian, co-founder of the London Centre for Cosmetic Dentistry, warns that because natural bristles retain moisture, they’re “a breeding ground for bacteria and malodour”, and should, therefore, be avoided for health reasons It also doesn’t take into account the challenge posed by the toothpaste packaging, or the mouthwash bottle – which is also generally made of plastic, and single-use. Phew! Who would have thought there was so much to think of in a single toothbrush?
There are such a wide range of dental products on the market, with trusted household brands such as White Glo, Oral-B, Colgate-Palmolive and Crest all heavily featuring in amenity kits around the globe. By having recognisable brands it allows a small element of air travel to feel like part of a passenger’s daily routine, and helps them arrive at their destination refreshed and ready. However, maybe it is time for airlines to start to think outside the box when it comes to dental offerings. Everyday there are new products on the market, which could be well suited to air travel – some of which could see the need for the toothbrush diminish significantly.
There has been an introduction of ‘toothpaste tablets’ which can be used with or without a toothbrush, and often come in re-useable, or plastic free packaging. Some of these products simply need chewed and they creating the necessary foam to create the ‘clean mouth feel’ that passengers crave. Other similar products can be used in conjunction with toothbrushes (fully biodegradable or otherwise), but would certainly lessen the plastic packaging waste created by the ‘extra’ bits in a dental kit.
Or, finally, is the answer investment? Vince McIntosh at Select Amenities certainly thinks so. ‘Oral care is not a good product category to lower standards to save a few pennies. Toothpaste and mouthwash are unique amenities in that they “pass the lips”, so perhaps the most important attribute is a well-recognized and respected brand, which puts the traveler at ease.’ Airlines should possibly think about creating dental kits that passengers want to take off the plane with them. They are so focussed on the rest of the kit having longevity, being re-used long after the journey is over, why not apply the same ethos to the dental kit?
By using products that passengers recognise, at a quality that they can use at their destination, and beyond, the amount of waste created by airlines everyday would be significantly reduced. This may not be the perfect long term solution, but it is certainly one that maintains passenger trust, whilst keeping an eye on the environment. Maybe in the future airlines could start to implement products that are a little further outside the customer’s comfort zone, toothpaste tablets, and no toothbrushes at all, possibly eliminating the need for single use plastics entirely. However, such fundamental change takes time, and surely it is better to do something, rather than nothing?