I recently wrapped up a round of Invisalign treatment. While I was going through it, my dentist told me to make sure I kept the old ones, just in case I needed to use them again for some reason. It kind of made sense at the time, particularly if I were to lose one, but now I’ve got a drawer full of them and have no clue what I’m supposed to do with them. Since they’re plastic, are they safe to toss in the recycle bin? Is there any kind of special protocol I need to do beforehand, like run them through the dishwasher first?
This is a great question, Josh. Invisalign recently got a patent for the plastic they use and call it SmartTrack. According to their press release, the material is a “multi-layer polymer.” This basically means there are lots of layers of plastic pressed together in order to make the trays. An example of this in film form is cellophane; what you might wrap your leftovers in or what your meat from the deli counter could be wrapped in. However, there are many types of polymers too, and they can be mixed together to form different materials. According to Invisalign, they tested over 260 materials before they settled on SmartTrack. That’s fairly easy to do given how a single shift in polymer use results in a whole new material.
That being said, you’re probably familiar with the numbers written on the bottom of plastic items. Those designate the type of plastic because each type has to be processed differently in recycling and some facilities don’t have the ability to recycle certain numbers, while certain plastics are not recyclable at all. In this case, the plastic used is actually a mixture of plastics, and scientists are still working out how to effectively recycle it. So, at present, the tech doesn’t exist to recycle the trays.
Adding to this, most cities have a ban on recycling medical waste. Here in Elgin, medical waste cannot be recycled. The trays typically fall under this classification, meaning even if the tech existed, you still couldn’t toss the trays in the recycle bin.
Bear in mind, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Everything we do leaves a carbon footprint of some sort. If you’re going with metal braces, then there’s mining, processing, shipping, and more taking place. If you don’t get braces of any type, then having teeth closer together or misaligned can put you at greater risk for decay. Ergo, you aren’t wrong to act and take care of your oral health. You need to. Given the choices available to us today, trays are not a bad way to go, but hopefully new materials will emerge that provide similar results with a lessened carbon footprint.
This blog is sponsored by Elgin Invisalign dentist, Dr. Steve Sirin.