Binning plastic cups for good

The Implant Centre in Hove and Haywards Heath explains how it is reducing its use of plastic cupsGuy Barwell explains how The Implant Centre in Hove and Haywards Heath is delivering 250,000 paper cups to referrers and competitors as part of its Go Green campaign.

The Implant Centre hopes to change the practice of all dentists in the south with a drive away from plastic cups in surgery.

Perhaps, with articles such as this and support from patients, we will slowly convert the whole of the UK.

It is hard to define how many plastic cups dentistry uses every year. If we double the number of NHS appointments from government statistics, to include private dentistry and hygiene, perhaps more than 90 million plastic cups every year. All just to allow the pink or green drink so many patients demand and desire.

The use of plastic cups has long been a hatred of mine. This irritates all the nurses at The Implant Centre no end. It came to a head when the nurses were setting up four plastic cups for every surgical patient treated! First for the tablets, the second for the water to take these tablets, the third for the chlorhexidine mouthwash and the fourth for the ever-present green mouthwash by the spittoon.

When we asked the nurses to look into ordering paper cups as an alternative, nothing was available from dental companies.

We then sourced compostable recycled cups from an online seller, admittedly at a higher price. This price is offset by the vast improvement in plastic waste – it is hard to put a value on that.

We have also found that this new ‘Go Green’ option has allowed us to reduce the number of cups used dramatically, and has been helping other dentists with this view.

Now, we no longer routinely put out cups for every patient. The patients don’t think this is ‘stingy’, as was the initial fear of the team. Simply mentioning to patients the desire to reduce waste – and they are immediately in utter agreement. Who needs a rinse after an examination?

Enthusiastic response

We had no idea the response from our colleagues would be so enthusiastic.

We’ve been asking dental practices what they are also doing to cut waste. We are all learning from each other. The adaptations to our practice are a daily discussion. Changes do come, albeit rather slowly, people do struggle with change.

One of the biggest barriers is that the nurses are terrified by infection control lectures they’ve attended; we wonder what is law and what is folklore. So often companies selling the cleaning products that are now a ‘must’ from the Care Quality Commission or dreaded HTM 01-05 policies run these lectures.

Delivering biodegradable cups

Some will remember the times we started having to look at single-use dental exam trays and instruments. People even tried selling us single-use handpieces. Remarkable we considered this when looking back.

We have phased out the use of the wet wipe-like cleaning cloths. We shun mums with babies for the use of baby wet wipes because they are apparently mainly plastic. Yet the dental world uses exactly this in vast quantities all day, every day.

Plastic cups phase out

We are an implant referral centre. So we use a lot of things that need sterilising and sent to landfill or incinerated – such as drapes and swabs. But, without care, so much else ends up incinerated that I don’t believe needs to be.

All the sterile bags we package instruments in are now split into the paper and plastic parts, so recycled as they are all clean. We have cut right back on what actually needs sterilising in pouches, reducing the level of use of sterilisers. Drying these pouches is so energy intense for machines.

We have phased out the use of most plastic dappens pots. You just don’t need Vaseline/adhesives or composite presented in a dappens pot. We will work more towards the use of sterilisable parts, such as suction tips and three in one tips.

We have changed the plastic drapes for the surgery, to materials that decompose in landfill rather than plastic. Who knows where we will end up, while still keeping up to date with current guidelines, and focusing on patient safety.

I look forward to the introduction of talks on making these things possible, but, as ever, dentists will lead this (or patient demands) and only it will only be made possible when companies get on board with what can be supplied at affordable cost for dental practices.

For more information visit

Published first in Dentistry magazine. If interested in signing up to receive Dentistry magazine, visit

Get the most out of your membership by subscribing to Dentistry CPD
  • Access 600+ hours of verified CPD courses
  • Includes all GDC recommended topics
  • Powerful CPD tracking tools included
Register for webinar
Add to calendar