The widespread use of disposable dental supplies perpetuates the United States’ dependency on petroleum, according to the Eco-Dentistry Association™(EDA), an international association promoting environmentally soundpractices in dentistry. Single-use plastics, such as chair covers andsterilization pouches, are made from oil.

The EDA points out that environmentalism is not just about turning offthe lights. Many dental practitioners don’t think about the “embodiedenergy” hiding in everyday dental supplies. For example, a singleplastic sterilization pouch represents 60 watts of embodied energy,which is the same amount of energy as leaving a 60-watt incandescentlight bulb turned on for 5 hours.

“Embodied energy represents all the energy used in the life cycle of anitem, from raw material to its final resting place,” said Susan Beck,director of the EDA. “The biggest offenders for hidden embodied energyin the typical dental office are disposables. Because disposables are bydefinition single-use, the return on the energy investment for theproduct is extremely low. Tremendous energy resources are used toextract raw materials, which are generally petroleum-based, to create aproduct that is manufactured, packaged, shipped, stored, and thenshipped again to a dental practice to be used once. Additional energy isconsumed to transport that product to a landfill, where it may sit forthousands of years.”

The EDA recommends choosing reusable or compostable dental supplies,such as cloth infection control barriers and sterilization pouches andplastic-free rinse and swish cups, whenever possible.

Additionally, the EDA points out that reusable supplies can cut supplycosts. For instance, a large disposable autoclave pouch costs about 20cents per use, while a reusable pouch costs about half as much.