Now, more than ever there is a push for airlines to be green, to put their money where their mouths are and make the move to improve their green credentials – but where should they start? It may seem a small part of the myriad offerings onboard, but the humble dental kit is a challenge that airlines need to solve if they want to reduce the single use plastic onboard.

It is an indisputable fact that plastic pollution is now creating an impact on the world that we must 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.  Each year over 3.6 billion plastic toothbrushes are sold, with 99% of all toothbrushes bought by consumers being plastic. In the world of airline amenity kits there is also a long way to go – when looking at the kits entered into the TravelPlus Airline Amenity Bag Awards around 75% of them still contain a plastic toothbrush and toothpaste tube.

The Humble Brush working with Lufthansa

So what is the answer? How do airlines provide a product that suits their budgets, whilst being fit for purpose, and saving the planet?

Thankfully, all is not completely lost! There are now a number of exciting, sustainable products coming to the market that allow airlines to offer ethical, green and economical solutions to their passengers in their dental kits. Amenities has taken the opportunity to talk to a few of the current contenders, to hear more about what they do, and how their products are an answer to airline’s sustainability problem.

@BambuuBrush was launched in 2019 by Tommie Eaton and Rebecca Dudbridge who have over 14 years travel experience between them, and are both focused on spreading the importance of lessening plastic waste via the power of social media. They are one of the few that have managed to break the airline market and are featured in the current Virgin Atlantic amenity kit offerings. They have also sold their bamboo toothbrushes in over 50 countries around the world, including being an official supplier for Team GB in the Tokyo Olympics.  They have created a brush made from Bamboo, which also features bristles which includes the naturally anti-bacterial activated charcoal as a cleaning agent. Bamboo is reputed to be the most sustainable product in the world, as it is easy to grow with no need for extra chemicals, and is good for the environment in which it is grown. @BambuuBrush are also focused on the importance of offsetting carbon emissions, as well as education outreach programmes, to ensure the next generations are able to look at alternatives to plastic for everyday items and encourage a greener, cleaner future.

@BambuuBrush currently featured in the latest Virgin Atlantic amenity kit

EcoFella is another company that have designed dental products that are more sustainable than the plastic ones currently on offer. As well as their Bamboo brushes, they also offer toothpaste tablets, which could be offered in amenity kits in paper packaging for even less plastic waste. Toothpaste tablets are pieces of small, dehydrated toothpaste, which when rehydrated using the saliva in the passengers mouth turns to a foaming toothpaste – removing the need for plastic toothpaste tubes. Their Founder and Director Melle Bax says, ‘When we look at the bamboo toothbrush, we look at 3 things: sustainability, functionality, and durability.’ This means that every toothbrush they make is not only sourced from sustainable bamboo, but also is made in an ethical environment, with workers receiving a fair wage, and working conditions. They also plant trees for each toothbrush sold to ensure they are giving back to the environment.

EcoFella Bamboo brushes

Finally, there is the Humble Co. A Swedish health and wellness company that offer oral care products that are designed by dentists, and are kind to the planet. The humble brush is a bamboo toothbrush which has already sold in excess of 35 million units worldwide, and comes in a variety of bristle types to ensure that consumers get the dental hygiene routine that they prefer. They are currently working with Lufthansa, and are contained within their airline amenity kits. Interestingly, alongside their bamboo products, they have also created their Vegan humble brush, which features a handle that is made from ensitrely plant based products. The Humble Co. are acutely aware of the budget constraints faced by airlines, and so are keen to ensure that they provide their items at no higher cost to the airline than a standard dental kit.

Just a few of the airline plastic toothbrushes currently found in amenity kits

Although these products are exciting, and mark an end to the traditional plastic toothbrush offered onboard, there is still some way to go to make them truly 100% sustainable. The brushes from the companies above all use nylon bristles, or bristles made from castor oil, none of which are biodegradable. This is to ensure that the products meet global dental standards, and can be kept anti-bacterial. These plastics will still break down into small pieces, and end up in our oceans as ‘micro-plastics’, harming our environment and wildlife. Natural alternatives are often not vegan, as they are derived from animal hair, and which are not certified by any dental health body, as they are breeding grounds for bacteria.

However, there is one product available that is 100% fully biodegradable on the market.  Wet & Clean is a compact bamboo toothbrush with bioplastic bristles, and coated with Chitosan, a natural antibacterial product created from shrimp shells. By incorporating the Chitosan into the bristles of the brush, it negates the need for a separate toothpaste, and can be packaged in a recyclable box, making it a completely green, sustainable alternative to the dental kit conundrum.

Bite toothpaste tabs

It is not just the toothbrush that causes a headache for sustainability whilst onboard – there is also the question of the plastic toothpaste tube with the foil seal. Again, however, there may be an answer in the form of toothpaste tabs. These are small, dehydrated toothpaste tablets that are rehydrated when put in the mouth, and form a foaming toothpaste that can be used in conjunction with a brush, and eliminates the need for a plastic tube. Eco Fella and the Humble Co. both have versions of this type of product on the market, as they are aware that just changing a toothbrush is not the end of the problem. There is also companies like Bite that specialises in toothpaste tabs, having been in the consumer market for a few years now, and have featured in leading publications around the world and PÄRLA. Founded and designed by dentists PÄRLA taste great, contain only ethical ingredients and come in sustainable packaging.

PÄRLA tabs

For the airlines these products are sustainable, take up less space in a kit, and are lighter – the holy grail for onboard amenities, as the less weight, the less fuel.

Unfortunately, changing the status quo always comes at a price. Although some airlines, including Hawaiian and Delta, are starting to incorporate sustainable alternatives into their dental kits, most are slower on the uptake. As with all areas of the amenities market, the budgets available for the kits are constantly being squeezed, and this makes introducing new products problematic. Currently airlines only invest between 6 and 10 cents on the total dental kit found in the kit, and these products, in most cases, come in higher than that. Airlines are often reluctant to rock the boat and change long tested, and trusted products, especially as it means more expenditure with no guarantee the passengers will react positively to the change.

However, passengers are evolving, the brands and credentials they want and trust are changing, and more and more they are keen to incorporate sustainability into products they use.  So surely the time has come to invest – the more airlines that include sustainable products in their kits, the more economical the products will become – a simple case of supply and demand. Now is the time for airlines to swallow the short term cost, for longer term gain – their customers, and our planet will thank them for it.