plastic free cotton buds (Q Tips)

Filed in Blog, Reduce by on January 21, 2011 32 Comments
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Are plastic free cotton buds available?

Are plastic free cotton buds available?

Last week I had an email from Rachel who is as proficient at putting on mascara as I am!

She wrote “I wonder if you know of a supplier of biodegradable ear buds? (or Q-tips as our American cousins call them). I know I probably shouldn’t use them, but I do, nothing else is as adept at rectifying the mess that I make of applying mascara whilst peering myopically into the mirror.

I’m using some made with unbleached cotton tips but it’s the plastic stick that bothers me – I find them washed up all over the beaches in Norfolk.”

My travels around the internet found two solutions and I’d love to hear yours.

First up are a brand which offer a bit of good news, a bit of bad news.

These organic cotton buds are available with paper sticks from Ethical Superstore. However, I’m not sure what the packaging is – it looks suspiciously like plastic to me and as I don’t know what type of plastic it is, I don’t know if it can be recycled.

Next are the Botanics Organic Fairtrade Cotton Buds made from GM free, organic cotton. These cotton buds are available in Boots and have paper stems instead of plastic so that they are biodegradable. And it looks very much like these are in a cardboard box!

What about you? Any zero waste cotton bud brands to give the thumbs up to or do you use something else entirely?

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (32)

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  1. I got some from mark & spencer a while back which were fairtrade cotton with paper sticks

  2. Sooz says:

    I use the marks and spencers ones too, they’re fairtrade and made from paper, come in a cardboard box, apart from a little (unmarked) clear bit of plastic that lets you see into the box

  3. Simply gentle make some good cotton buds, packaged in cardboard, with FSC certified paper stalks.
    Although, Old plastic Q-tip tubs make great containers, for things like crayons, oil pastells and other art materials, or really any thin cylindrical item.
    I found the simply gentle buds for sale here:

  4. Q-tips is a brand name of cotton swabs. However, we usually call all cotton swabs “Q-Tips.” They are biodegradable. What I have right now, Johnson’s swabs, have little plastic sticks. All this time, I thought I had paper sticks even though I use at least three each day. I have not investigated the origin of the cotton in either of the ones I have used, those listed above.

  5. Lena says:

    Well, I hate plastic cotton buds, not just because of plastic but because they bend all the time when I need to press a bit. If I need a cotton bud I simply take a longer safety match (with the flamable head scratched off!) and wrap cotton wool around it. I have quite a skill in it and it makes the same service as the damn plastic stuff, if not better. If you are using it just for mascara, the match can be “recycled” – you just pull the used cotton wool off and you can put a new one on next time you need it.

  6. Mrs Green says:

    @maisie dalziel: @Sooz: great news Maisie and Sooz – easy to get hold of too; thank you!

    @Michelle Morgan: Oh how weird; that’s the same make as the ones I linked to on Ethical Superstore except these were in plastic. Great find – thanks!

    @Practical Parsimony: It’s a brand name? Oh, ok – thank you for enlightening me!

    @Lena: I like the idea of a match and a bit of cotton wool; probably very frugal too πŸ™‚

  7. Carol Henshaw says:

    The Simply Organic ones are now available from Waitrose packaged in cardboard

  8. Mrs Green says:

    @Carol Henshaw: Thanks for that, Carol – good to know!

  9. Jannet says:

    I use the Simply Organic ones which I get at the local health food shop. They have paper stems and I put them in my compost bin.They come in a cardboard box but it does have a very small clear plastic window of unknown recyclability

  10. Mrs Green says:

    @Jannet: Thanks for the info Jannet; I’ll have to get onto them and find out what that plastic is πŸ˜‰

  11. Jane says:

    Cotton buds feature in the Bag it and Bin it – Don’t Flush it campaigns run by the water companies. Mixed with all the fat that we wash down the sink and all the other things that shouldn’t be flushed – tights, razor blades, sanitary items etc our Victorian sewers can and do set solid. The sewers then have to be dug out by operatives with spades.

  12. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Yes, I’ve seen those ads, and to be honest I’m amazed that anyone would even contemplate putting such stuff down a toilet anyway???!!!

  13. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: Wee, poo and loo paper are the only things that should be flushed. The water companies seem to have the same problem as the Councils with this waste. They end up with it. There are all sorts of items manufactured which are labelled ‘flushable’ but the water companies don’t agree! Unfortunately I can’t find anything saying not paper towels in their literature and these are what are blocking the office loos!

  14. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Maybe you should organise someone from your local water company to come and speak at your workplace. Failing that, the new yorkshire water ads are pretty good – they show the possible effects of flushing things that shouldn’t be flushed…

  15. Jane says:

    @Mrs Green: Good idea. I just may. The trouble with the videos like the Yorkshire Water one is that you see someone throwing those things down the loo. I sort of think that it would be better to see someone pulling them out. People’s attention spans are often not that good and they won’t concentrate on watching the whole video. Brainwave: It would be better to show the video run backwards so as not to reinforce the idea of throwing things down the loo. Start with the horror of the mess (shame you can’t add smell).

  16. Jennifer says:

    Asian earpicks are slender wooden sticks with a slight curve at the end — they’re infinitely reusable, but take a little getting used to. (Note to self: do not shove down ear canal.) I’ve heard that genetics determine what kind of earwax we have (Asians tend to have dry, brittle earwax), so they might not be a good solution for everyone, but my parents (and their parents) have used them forever.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: πŸ˜€ adding smell would be a fantastic deterrent!

    @Jennifer: Hi Jennifer, really interesting information; thank you. Of course, to my Westernised ‘throw it away’ mentality, the idea of a reusable earpick takes some getting used to!

  18. Sebastian says:

    There are cotton buds from Bellawa called “Bellawa Natural” that are made from biodegradable materials. This is one of the very few products available I know that are completely biodegradable including the packaging. The package window is not – like with most other products of that kind – made of plastic but of transparent paper. I have found a German online shop selling them:
    They also ship internationally. For a product description in English check out:
    I have bought them many times but unfortunately find them too seldom in the wholefood shops I go to. Then I have to buy the plastic-window-ones which I find “bekackt”, as the Dude would say in the German version of The Big Lebowski.

  19. Mrs Green says:

    @Sebastian: Hi Sebastian, thanks for sharing the information and link; It will be great for our German readers to check out !

  20. Amanita says:

    I use wood and cotton and I do my own buds…

  21. Mrs Green says:

    @Amanita: How do you do those Amanita?

  22. David Cannon says:

    I don’t think anybody has mentioned the good old Co-op – Fairtrade cotton wool buds. Non-GM cotton. Paper stick. LDPE Type 4 bag. Bag it and bin it, don’t flush it logo. All that and 100% compostable. Life is good occasionally.

  23. Mrs Green says:

    @David Cannon: Hi David; thanks for sharing the information. I shop in the Co-Op so will check them out πŸ™‚

  24. David Cannon says:

    @Mrs Green: I forgot to say I finally found them in amongst the baby stuff (don’t really go there these days). I knew they existed but had searched in vain in the cosmetics bit at my local Co-op. I had to overcome my male stereotype in the end and ask someone !

  25. Mrs Green says:

    @David Cannon: Ah great – thanks for that; now I know where to go. Well done on letting your macho side rest for a while πŸ˜€

  26. Anna Pitt says:

    @Jane: Well said! Cotton / paper cotton buds can be burnt or composted. Flushing them down the loo as so many people do wastes around 7 litres of water too.

    There’s clearly a number of makes of plastic free cotton buds on the market but what annoys me is they are way more expensive than the plastic ones. I did some research on this and compared prices. Cotton/paper buds seem to be around Β£2 per 200 but I found plenty of plastic stemmed ones for around 70p.

    How can we stop this exploitation of the green economy? I think I’m going to try the match stick/cotton wool version in protest!

  27. giftedlyn53 says:

    I had never thought about this but after reading all the above posts, I have managed to find some Fairtrade cotton/paper ear buds at my local Co-op 100 for Β£1.

  28. Monica says: Bamboo and cotton….I’m using cotton wool and matches, small piece of cotton coil on piece of wood, use, remove dirty cotton, use wood again….easy.

  29. dannipainter says:

    I’ve always just used the corner of a damp muslin cloth to remove any mascara smudges! As for ears.. well I can’t remember the last time I used a ear bud, we don’t need to clean our ears – they can do it all by themselves πŸ™‚

  30. Philippa says:

    Following this campaign (amongst others :)) which seems to have had success we should be finding it much easier to find cotton buds with paper sticks. So please everyone look out for them, ask for them, search them out to buy in preference to ones with plastic sticks and don’t don’t don’t flush them please! There are far too many “unflushables” on our beaches and they contribute to creating blocked drains and fatbergs under our streets.

    Yes we are now in 2017!

  31. Philippa says:

    The photo that the photographer wishes didn’t exist.

    Found some white plastic stemmed ones in Sainsbury’s πŸ™ where there were also Johnson’s ones with paper stems, and some more white plastic stemmed Morrison’s ones in a drawer at home but they’ve probably been there a while. M&S still do paper stemmed ones.

    Hopefully all our supermarkets will change to paper stemmed ones.

    The problem is that they are often carelessly flushed and end up on the beach as they are small enough to go right through the system.

    Don’t flush them folks!

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