Why are cotton buds with plastic sticks an issue?

Single-use cotton buds with plastic sticks are a common household item used for personal hygiene. Cotton buds with plastic sticks are often found in packs such as personal hygiene kits and first aid kits.

They are problematic because the plastic stick cannot be recycled. Cotton buds with plastic sticks are often incorrectly disposed of by being flushed down the toilet. This contaminates sewerage treatment facilities and causes marine litter in waterways and beaches. The cotton bud plastic stick also breaks down into microplastics which do not completely decompose. These microplastics contaminate the environment and can end up in the food chain.

What are the alternatives?

Avoiding single-use items is always the best environmental outcome. However in situations where a single-use cotton bud is required, choosing an alternative product without plastic is best.

Alternative cotton buds are already widely available, with many brands offering cotton buds with sticks made from:

  • hard paper
  • bamboo
  • sugarcane.

These have a similar look and feel to cotton buds with plastic sticks but may be less flexible and durable. They are made from plant-based materials which are compostable and can be sustainably sourced.