Conventional Q tips, also known as cotton swabs or cotton buds, have a disastrous effect on the environment. Just like most other single-use plastic items, they cannot be recycled once used.
Thus, they often end up polluting our waterways and even being ingested by marine life. As a matter of fact, animals confuse these swabs for food sources. There is a dedicated section on the topic at the end of this article.
Let’s focus on the good news though: the world and its inventors are going in the right direction. As we often say on Puratium, we want to inspire long-lasting changes in your home and empower you to be living more in symbiosis with nature. This does not mean that we want to criticize your habits or make you feel responsible for today’s pollution.
We simply encourage you to read the labels of the daily products you buy and understand the impacts behind (swabs are a good example) and apply the Rs’ philosophy whenever you can.
Together, we can make sure Q Tips never reach the oceans or landfills while avoiding any drastic changes to the way you clean your ears.
Concretely, there are a few eco-alternatives to conventional plastic and cotton swabs, starting with reusable Q tips. Rest assured, these are easily washable with a bit of soap and water!
Let’s start with detailing the benefits of reusable q tips, our personal favorite eco-alternative at Puratium. We will also share other ideas and products depending on your habits and budget, based on what you might already have at home.
What Are The Eco-friendly Alternatives To Conventional Q Tips?
Before digging into each option, please be aware that inserting Q Tips directly in your ear canal is not recommended. To be safe (and clean!), only gently scrub the outer part.
Have a look at Healthline for all the details. And always seek medical advice in case of doubts.
Here are our favorite low waste solutions when it comes to replacing conventional Q tips.
1. The Most Earth-Friendly Option: Reusable Q Tips
We particularly like these multifunctional, reusable swabs from Lastobject;
- These super-soft silicone swabs are made from all-natural silica sand: a durable yet flexible fabric.
- By design, LastSwab reusable Q Tips are built to last thanks to high quality, non-toxic materials which are gentle on your skin and ear. They are suitable for sensitive body parts while being a reliable makeup accessory.
- They come with a bio-based carrying case made of corn: in addition to being biodegradable, these cases are quite handy for frequent travelers or house-proud customers like us.
Did you know that each reusable Q tip can be used up to 1,000 times? Imagine the amount of plastic-made items you will be able to divert from landfills! And the extra money you will save each year by merely switching disposable swabs for reusable Q tips!
How To Use
You might ask yourself: are reusable Q Tips safe and sanitary? As explained above, do not insert into your ear canal directly as it may cause injury or create a build-up of earwax. Simply rub the silicone tips of your Lastswab against the exterior part of your ear canal.
Moreover, reusable swabs are versatile, eco friendly products: you can use one version for cleaning your ears and the other to provide touch-ups (great for makeup or art projects, for example).
Maintenance-wise, it is essential to wash them with soap and water after each use. Preferably, scrub the swabs with lukewarm water for at least 30 seconds. Let them dry properly before reuse.
Feel free to sanitize your LastSwab thanks to an alcohol-based disinfectant from time to time.
If you are looking for other trustworthy and earth-friendly bathroom essentials, we suggest you take a sneak peek here to enrich your daily skin and beauty routine.
The Brand In General
The eco-fighter founder Isabel Aagaard created LastObject with the ambition to make single-use sanitary items like conventional swabs, tissues, and rounds a relic of the past.
Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, all products are manufactured on-site with the ambition to be sustainable “across the entire value chain, from cradle to grave.”
From a carbon emission standpoint, each item must mitigate at least 10 times the environmental impact vis à vis its single-use counterpart.
In terms of materials, the Danish brand opted for non-toxic, plant-based plastics or organic cotton.
As highlighted in several reviews like this one on Puratium, the production of organic cotton entails significantly less natural resources and chemicals’ use.
Lastly, they ship using cardboard only and are hence proudly plastic-free – a good indicator that they are not greenwashing their customers like other copycats.
LastObject’s success was unfortunately illegally copied just a few days after its launch (of far less quality): feel free to report any suspicious case of Lastswab’s counterfeit here.
If you are looking for low waste, ethically made accessories for your daily beauty routine, LastObject’s online store is a great place to start looking.
2. The Easiest Alternatives: Biodegradable Q Tips
If you cannot imagine a life without Q tips, the easiest solution is to switch to plastic-free Q tips. We are big fans of Humble Co and their biodegradable cotton swabs in particular.
- Only 3 USD for 100 pieces is a competitive price compared to other sites selling similar cotton swabs.
- These BPA-free certified items are made of sustainably-grown bamboo and the tips of organic cotton.
- To be more precise, the swabs are made from bamboo leaves harvested from 5 meters and up. Because pandas only eat leaves they can reach, these products can safely be labeled “panda-friendly”!
- We love Humble Co. for its commitment to sustainable packaging; they ship in recycled content and use recyclable shipping packaging. Brands’ choices of packaging in a decisive factor in any of our articles and assessments.
Be aware that biodegradable does not necessarily mean compostable, and for sure not the case here with reusable Q Tips.
If 100% paper, bamboo -made or cotton swabs have come in contact with chemicals like nail polish, avoid composting and ask your local recycling center for the best course of action.
However, if you have only used your swabs to clean your ears, composting is the smart eco-choice for proper disposal.
3. The Zero Waste Choice You Did Not Think Of: Your Towel Corner
Following a last-minute getaway weekend with friends for which we were not prepared, we ended up forgetting a few bathroom essentials.
We, therefore, tried to rub our ears with a towel corner gently, and it worked well!
If you are not a Q tip addict when it comes to cleaning your ears, this simple change might do; super easy and free of charge. Plus, it limits the risk of inserting the towel corner too far in your ear canal.
Did you know?
As explained in Helen Round’s Eco collection, Bamboo toweling is produced from the environmentally sustainable bamboo plant.
Indeed, “it is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet with some species growing almost a meter a day.
It is a sustainable alternative to cotton, it is renewable, and it is said to have some antibacterial properties.
As an eco friendly and multifunctional plant, bamboo has been used in architecture, agriculture, furniture, and paper-making for thousands of years and, more recently, as a fabric.”
If you are interested in the topic of sustainable fabrics and slow, eco friendly fashion in general, take a sneak peek here.
4. The Multifunctional Zero Waste Pick: Cotton Rounds
You can use them in the same way as the corner of your towel. It works just like cotton swabs with less risk of penetrating your ear canal too profoundly.
Moreover, you can also use cotton rounds for other bathroom rituals:
- It can act as a makeup remover.
- It is excellent for applying cream face, lotion, or toner.
- To clean your face with your favorite cleanser.
If you live in North America, we recommend these organic reusable cotton rounds from EcoRoots.
They are made of sustainable and biodegradable fabrics (GOTS certified organic cotton and bamboo).
As usual for this brand, it is a plastic-free product and comes with a recyclable package. You can easily wash them between each use.
If you live in Europe, we really like Cornwall-based Helen Round’s brand, and in particular, her reusable bamboo pads.
Price-wise, expect 15 GPB for ten pads; another tremendous and affordable Zero Waste Gift to give to your loved ones (or yourself!).
They are made using two layers of super-soft bamboo, which is ideal for sensitive skin.
What Is Wrong With Conventional Q Tips?
Single-use, cotton buds made of plastic sticks cannot be recycled and end up polluting oceans, but know they are more sustainable options for cleaning your ears.
Simply put: they are made out of plastic sticks and a type of plastic that, to this day, is not recyclable.
Once used, it is very likely that you will flush your ear swab down the toilet (ending in oceans and beaches) or thrown away in your trash (ending in landfills).
Just like every conventional plastic-made product, they will end up polluting waterways and shorelines for hundreds of years. Or end up in incinerators, but that is another story.
According to the Marine Conservation Society, which conducts annual beach clean-ups in the UK, conventional plastic swabs are always in the top ten plastic waste items found on British beaches.
Due to their structure, conventional plastic & cotton swabs pass through the majority of sewage treatment works. They pollute the oceans as they lose cotton and accumulate toxins like PCBs.
As explained on the MCS website: marine life can ingest these microplastics (and cause harm or starvation) and release dangerous chemicals.
Therefore, let’s set the right example and have a look at more sustainable options that will be far less harmful to the environment.
Even though we agree that a cotton bud might be a superfluous product, we understand that some of us enjoy the feeling of rubbing our ears.
And doing so with a solution that is environmentally friendly, low waste, and safe to use by design.
Hence the reason why we wanted to recommend a few swabs alternatives, depending on your style and bathroom habits.
We hope that one of the 4 Q tip alternatives above will fit your needs and ears’ cleaning habits!
To share our experience, we first opted for the biodegradable options to ease the swab (pun intended).
However, we quickly realized that a long-lasting ear cleaning solution was preferable as we could not always set up an efficient compost system in our apartment.
Thus, even though we were slightly reluctant at the start, each of us now has its set of reusable Q tips – a lot more comfortable to use than anticipated!
Lastly, as is the case for all low waste swaps, remember that opting for sustainable and reusable products once your old ones are no longer usable will be much more affordable in the long run (and the planet will thank you for it).
Feel free to reach out to us in case you have more shrewd solutions or earth-friendly products to replace conventional plastic & cotton swabs.