Sunday, March 06, 2016

The New Cigarette Butts

Last summer, I traveled to Jackson Hole to visit my sister. On a walk around Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons National Park, a scenic and short little walk, I noticed two plastic flossers in the middle of the gravel path. My sister and I talked about how we see them everywhere--parking lots, in the grass in parks, in the snow--everywhere. Beginning with that conversation, my sister began sending me close-up photos of flossers she encountered with a note of where they were found; she includes no other information, just a text with a photo and location. I began to reciprocate in August 2015, sending her images of flossers I found in Missouri.

Since July 2015, we have amassed a catalog of 207 photos of discarded flossers between us; it should be noted that these are the flossers that we have seen when we have our phones with us, which means we have seen many more but they have not been documented. For example, on my walk to the gym there is a sage green flosser at the end of my street, but I never have my phone with me when I walk down there, so it remains undocumented. The plastic flossers have become as ubiquitous as cigarette butts were for many years. My town has outlawed smoking in buildings and public spaces, so I don't see nearly as many cigarette butts, just flossers.

Of course, dental hygiene is very important and flossing is a key factor in maintaining healthy gums. However, having spoken with someone who has used these plastic flossers, it has been reported that they are not as effective as two index fingers and a piece of waxed dental floss, which is my preferred method of flossing. The amount of plastic in our environment remains at high levels, causing pollution and impacts to wildlife, especially when the plastic ends up in our streams and rivers, which is where the flossers in the street eventually end up.

Since the documentation of flossers in the environment began, my sister and I have noted two developments: the introduction of different colored flossers, and dual purpose flossers. First, all flossers were white with blunt handles. Around December, my sister sent me a photo of a sage green flosser found at Snow King, a ski destination in her hometown. I began seeing sage green and blue flossers in Missouri about a month later. Was this development in color to represent "eco-friendly disposable flossing," and are the color flossers more expensive? Out of the blue, she sent me a photo of a sage green flosser with a sharp end!

Because most of the flossers are found in parking lots, I attributed the sharp end to broken plastic. By January, every flosser we documented had a sharp end, which made me draw a conclusion that the one-time-use flossers now came with a toothpick at the end, as seen here in classic white in the parking lot of a local state park.

I mentioned this recent phenomenon to my dental hygienist who certainly encourages flossing, but was saddened to hear that flossing is now ending with disgusting pieces of plastic discarded in the environment. "I guess it's better than cigarettes, right?" she asked during my last teeth cleaning.

My sister has sent me some really gross ones, like this one on the ski slopes with pieces of carrot and maybe a little blood on it. Her comment was "even the ravens think this is gross." Postprandial flossing remains a wonderful habit, certainly better than smoking cigarettes, but the disposable flossers, even the green ones, are not environmentally friendly.

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