The not so darling buds…

I was brought up with the fear of perforated eardrums so avoid cotton buds, q tips, call them what you will. My husband however gets through boxes of them. He must have the cleanest ears in Yorkshire. So he did not react well when I told him his brand of bud has been banned from our house because the stick is made from plastic.

They may be small but the cotton bud features large on the pollution chart. One major problem is that people use them and then flush them down the loo. Each week an estimated 500,000 plastic sticks are sent down the pan in the Thames Water region alone.

Being small they can squeeze through filters at sewage works and so out into open water. During Beachwatch 2004, they made up 87% of sewage related debris found on our beaches – that’s a staggering 154 buds every km of beach surveyed. In 2006 they were the second most common item of litter washed up on our beaches.

Being plastic they are of course with us for ever. The obvious answer is don’t dispose of them in the toilet. Now in all fairness the husband (though guilty of many bathroom crimes) does not flush his down the loo. But that still leaves the question why make a disposable, one-use item out of something that lasts for centuries? If they don’t go down the loo they still have to be disposed of somehow and plastic is not got rid of easily. I don’t see why clean ears have to mean a dirty environment.

BUY plastic free

My husband though insists that clean ears are vital to health, and cotton buds are essential for clean ears. So we have compromised. We buy cotton buds with a paper stem – not only are they made from renewable sources, they biodegrade naturally in the compost heap. Biocototige (French company) do them and they can be bought from eBay –

U.K. based….cotton buds

UK based online company Boobalu sell the bamboo versions pictured above. As she is very plastic aware, she will no doubt recognise your onward plastic free packaging needs! Check out her store for a whole load of plastic free goodness!

According to the comments below, Coop and Marks and Spencers sell paper-stem buds.
“Midlands Co-op do fairtrade ones with a cardboard shaft albeit in a a little plastic resealable bag”
“Co-op and Marks & Spencer now do Fairtrade Cotton buds which have paper sticks. These are also obviously made from Fairtrade Cotton.”
And this might be worth looking into “There is a brand called Simply Gentle made by that have paper sticks and are made from organic cotton.”

If you know of any others or have more information on the above please do comment.

Call To Action Switch The Stick Sign Up

Switch The Stick is a campaign and petition to get plastic cotton buds out of the drains and off the beaches. It has been organised by  Michelle and Natalie (both can be found in the Plastic-Free U.K. directory). They  are asking UK retailers to stop making plastic cotton buds by the end of 2017.

According to Switch The Stick ” Waitrose and Johnson & Johnson announced they’d make the change to paper, and the Coop and Marks and Spencers sell paper-stem buds. Now we need to make sure the others do the same.

Tesco, Sainsburys, Boots, ASDA, Morrisons, Lidl, Aldi, Superdrug and Wilko are currently reviewing their policies on cotton buds … which is why we need to show them how many of us support the switch to paper!”

They already have over 11000 signitures. If you havn’t done so already do add your name. It’s so easy to change this and millions of fish will thank you
The petition is now on 38 degrees (new link here)
lots more information about Switch The Stick, can be found here 


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11 thoughts on “Ear buds

  1. A lone cotton bud is such a seemingly innocuous item but then when I see half a million a week mentioned for one region the picture changes dramatically.
    Like you I don’t use them!

  2. Hi, What a fantiastic idea, I have never thought about that before. I have just ordered 2 packets off Ebay and intend to use then right away. Thanks. I have a friend Heidi, who runs flossybots, and she sells online chemical free products and eco products, I’m sure she will be very interested in the cotton buds too.

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