Cotton buds are so much a part of daily life that we don’t even think about it while reaching for the box after a bath.
An estimated 90% of Americans use cotton buds regularly, and the same is estimated for New Zealand.
According to Q-tip manufacturer Unilever, about 25.5 billion cotton buds are produced each year, most ending up in the ocean.
The primary two materials used to manufacture cotton buds are polypropylene plastic and cotton.
We all know what plastic does to our environment and the oceans, while the cotton industry is one of the worst polluters on the planet.
Polypropylene is one of the tougher plastics around, used frequently in manufacturing microwave-safe containers. As a result, they are challenging to break down and take ages to decompose.
The cotton industry has long been demonized for environmental pollution.
Cotton farming is often done in developing nations like India and China, with little to no environmental protection laws.
A crop that requires heavy use of insecticides and pesticides, cotton farmers and those living near farms have been reported to have higher incidences of severe diseases like congenital disabilities and miscarriages.
A water-intensive crop, 2,700 litres of water is needed to produce a single t-shirt!
Thankfully, there are many more ecologically responsible ways to clean those pesky ears and still protect the environment.
Here are some alternatives you can explore before buying that next box of cotton buds!
Hydrophil Cotton & Bamboo Buds
These biodegradable cotton buds are made from soft cotton and bamboo. Simply dispose or compost these vegan, water-neutral, and fair trade buds after use without too much guilt.
They come in a pack of 100 in a recycled box and are priced at £2.35 (about NZ$4.50).
In addition, Hydrophil donates about 10% of its profits to charities and organizations focused on providing clean drinking water to folks living in the southern hemisphere.
Humble Bamboo Cotton Swabs
Made from cotton, bamboo, and Isatis tinctoria, these cotton buds are 100% biodegradable, cruelty-free and compostable.
The FSC-certified bamboo is harvested from bamboo leaves above 5 meters. Since pandas can’t reach the higher leaves, these swabs are “panda friendly”!
The Humble Co’s mission is to take plastics out of the planet, creating functional, useful planet-friendly products. Their products support their non-profit arm, the Humble Smile Foundation. The Foundation focuses on education, advocacy, and urgent oral care.
A portion of all sales goes towards carrying out this mission.
These responsible cotton swabs come packed in recyclable packing and cost US$2.99 for a pack of 100.
ecoLiving Organic Fairtrade Cotton Buds
Made from ethical materials such as FSC® Mix paper, these cotton buds from Eco Living are 100% compostable and leave behind no waste or plastic residue.
The cotton they use is GOTS-certified and grown without any pesticides or insecticides.
In addition to using only ethical materials and ensuring plastic-free packaging, ecoLiving plants a tree for every product sold.
The company is also a member of 1% For The Planet, giving back 1% of its profits to environmental and social causes. A pack of 100 buds costs £2.50 ($4.70).
Coralov Bamboo Swab
These biodegradable makeup swabs come in compostable boxes. They are suitable for use in arts and crafts, detailed cleaning work, ear cleaning, and makeup maintenance.
The bamboo and cotton used are 100% biodegradable and do not contain any perfumes, chemicals, or plastics.
Five boxes, each with 200 swabs go at an affordable price of $13.97.
Bamboodu’s Bamboo Cotton Buds
With a mission to help the planet out by bringing small changes in our lifestyle and habits, the bamboo cotton buds from Bamboodu are 100% biodegradable, zero-waste, and vegan.
Made from natural, organic bamboo, they come in recycled cardboard packaging and cost £2.95 for a pack of 200.
Sure, buying bamboo cotton buds can help reduce the carbon footprint and keep plastic out of the oceans, but it still contributes to consumerism. Eco-alternatives still contribute to waste!
What about the one swab to rule them all and the last cotton bud you’ll ever have to buy?
Part of LastObject’s range of reusable products, LastSwab is an excellent addition to your zero waste journey.
Made with durable, non-toxic TPE and PP materials, the LastSwab is the answer to crossing cotton buds off your shopping list forever.
It will last 1,000 uses without compromising on the feel and quality. Simply wash the tips lightly with soap and water after each use and store them again for future use.
This zero-waste cotton bud comes in three models: a regular cotton bud, another for beauty-oriented functions and one for babies. Priced at NZ$18, it comes in a convenient carrying case that keeps the reusable bud safely stored for repeated use.
LastSwab is reusable for approximately 1,000 uses, making each use $0.018. That’s cheaper than most eco-friendly bamboo buds, making LastSwab more sustainable and kinder to the planet than the best recyclable or biodegradable option!
Homemade Ear Cleaner
What about making your own homemade ear cleaner to deal with the pesky earwax?
You can also prepare a range of homemade cleaners with a dropper bottle and some hydrogen peroxide, vinegar, or baking soda.
Mix any of the cleaning agents into a dropper bottle with a bunch of water, and drip it into your ear. You might hear a few fizzy or popping sounds, which is normal.
Keep the homemade solution in each ear for about 10 minutes, then drain and dry. Be sure to dilute hydrogen peroxide that is over 3%, and use a ratio of three parts baking soda to one part water.
In addition, rubbing alcohol and vinegar is an excellent way of removing a buildup of earwax. Mix both in equal parts, and presto! You have yet another alternative to cotton buds.
Sometimes simple swaps can make significant changes.
You don't always need chemical cleaners or single-use cotton buds to remove earwax. Take a clean, soft, thin cloth and wrap it around your finger.
Dip the cloth in lukewarm water to dampen it, then move the finger around the ear canal. You’ll be able to use a single hand towel or another piece of fabric many times before needing to wash it.
Reusable tissues can be used in the place of a cloth or towel. LastTissue is the perfect blend of a handkerchief and a conveniently portable tissue pack.
With GOTS-certified cotton, each sheet will last up to 520 washes, making them an outstanding alternative to single-use tissue paper.
Rinse, and repeat!