Cotton Buds..

Last month saw Johnson & Johnson begin the job of switching their cotton buds from plastic to paper stems. The pharmaceutical giant has said that it will prevent tens of thousands of tonnes of plastic reaching the seas. Wow – that is an awful lot of plastic coming from tiny little cotton buds?? It seems crazy but unfortunately very true.

Dr Sue Kinsey, Senior Pollution Policy Officer, Marine Conservation Society, said: “The amount of cotton bud sticks our volunteer beach cleaners have found on UK beaches have doubled since 2012 from an average of 11 to 24 for every 100 metres of beach cleaned.

Each year more than 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally, and 10 per cent will end up in the sea. It is estimated that there is now a 1:2 ratio of plastic to plankton and, left unchecked, plastic will outweigh fish by 2050. (

So how do these plastic cotton buds end up on our beaches? Down the loo – that’s how. They get flushed and because of their small size and shape, they get through most filters and don’t cause blockages, thus getting through the whole system, and ending up in our seas. Here they can cause many problems, for example –

  • They add to the toxic plastic overload getting bigger and bigger in our seas and oceans. Plastic takes HUNDREDS OF YEARS to break down.
  • Not only do they contain their own toxic plastic chemicals but they can absorb more from the environment, causing a toxic soup.
  • Marine life can eat them by mistake, poisoning them but also physically damaging them because of their shape. The contamination doesn’t stop at the fish however, it can work its way up the food chain potentially harming everything else in that chain.

Cotton buds are just something that we take for granted. A beauty tool used by so many – I certainly use them in my work and at home; you can’t beat a cotton bud for sharpening up a liquid liner. It is not something we perhaps associate with endangering aquatic life, however if using those plastic ones it is. Even if you’re not flushing them down the loo, they are still going to be here waaay longer than us – and that is not right – our cotton buds should not outlive us!! It is something we have complete control over though.

There are many brands out there who still use plastic stems – these ones pictured below are from where I teach but are a very common sight in any beauty college or salon I would say, bought in bulk from a wholesaler. I choose to use my own and tell the students why I am doing so, in the hope they take it on board. There is a brilliant project aptly named The Cotton Bud Project who are putting pressure on brands to change their plastic stems over to biodegradable materials. They also provide information to the consumer on why paper stems are better and give advice on which ones to use.

In my kit I use a combination of either Simply Gentle’s organic cotton buds or Marks and Spencer’s Fairtrade ones – it just depends which ones I can get my hands on. I also use Muji’s thin cotton buds – they are not organic cotton but they are really good for your kit because of their size. They are paper stems and you can buy refill packs which means you don’t get endless plastic pots – another thing to consider when buying cotton buds. Both the Simply Gentle and M&S buds come in paper cartons.

Do you use cotton buds? Why not take the Cotton Bud Project’s Good Buddy Pledge to ditch plastic stems (if you haven’t already of course!!)


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