Cotton Buds Are Just as Problematic as Straws, So Here Are the Alternatives

Cotton Buds Are Just as Problematic as Straws, So Here Are the Alternatives

For us who don’t generally have problems with ear wax, we can live without cotton buds. But for the ones who do have problems with it, ear cleaners are a must-have thing. Unfortunately, cotton buds are problematic to the environment and our own health. Your ears can get irritated and those cotton buds could push wax deeper into your ears, leading to blockages and infections.

Another case is that you have no problems with your ear wax but you can’t live without these cotton buds because of makeup. You need this to probably fix your eyeliner, clean some fallouts of your eyeshadow, wipe away mascara, many more.

Sadly, these things are just as problematic to the environment as plastic straws. A report by World Wildlife Fund said that the UK uses 13.2 billion of them annually, more than any other European country.

Because of its small size, many of these things end up in landfills or oceans where birds and fish mistake them for food and end up damaging themselves involuntarily. “Even after they break down into smaller plastic particles, they cause digestive issues and possibly other health impacts in wildlife and marine life that ingest the particles,”

“This is made worse by the fact that plastic micro-particles absorb persistent organic pollutants and other toxins, making them a million times more toxic than surrounding seawater, and this toxicity is concentrated as it moves up the food chain,” said Claire Norman, a spokesperson for Friends of the Earth.

Geoff Brighty, a science and policy advisor for the nonprofit Plastic Oceans UK said that flushing down cotton buds will make things worse as well. Wastewater treatment, a place after you flush, can’t process small stuffs.

“Wastewater treatment works aren’t designed to deal with small waste like cotton buds and they pass through the filter screens and enter the works. Once the material is at a wastewater treatment works, the problem can arise in times of high rainfall where the works simply overflow, and you get the sudden release of all wastewater material in the system out into the rivers and coasts from storm sewage outfalls,” said Brighty.

That’s why, if you absolutely can’t live without cotton buds or swabs, these are some alternatives for you.


This product looks like an actual cotton bud but it’s actually made from silicone that you can reuse whenever you like.

When you’re used to the feeling of cotton or ear pick in and around your ears, you might be skeptical with how this product works. You might think that the silicone would be too flexible for our usual cotton buds so it’ll do the job badly. Well, LastSwab is fortunately resilient, more comfortable to use, and you can clean it quickly after each use so we don’t toss or flush small pieces of plastic anymore.

You’ll get two reusable swabs and carrying cases for about 20 dollars. There’s a smooth version for those who need it for makeup purposes (Makeup Swab), and there’s the dotted version (Standard Swab) for cleaning your ears. The environment will be happy, and you’ll be satisfied as well. It’s a win-win for sure.

Bamboo ear pick

If you live in East Asia, particularly Japan and China, you probably stumble upon these things a lot. You use these ear picks to scrape the wax from your ear. Which actually sounds like a good idea, but it really isn’t for people who have wet type of ear wax, I’m included.

So if you have dry or flaky ear wax, bamboo ear picks are excellent alternatives for you. I realize that there’s a risk of cleaning your ears too deep with this and you can damage your ear canal, rupture a blood vessel and stuff, but the Japanese recommend using this.

Organic biodegradable swabs

Getting rid of cotton buds entirely from your life might be challenging. If you want to take it slow or not change at all, then switch to organic biodegradable swabs. Look for swabs/buds that are made from 100% organic cotton and/or 100% bamboo which are not packaged in plastic. It’s also better if the sticks are made from recycled cardboard/paper.

Do it the natural way

cleaning ears natural way

Have no problems with your ear wax? Or do you prefer to clean it the natural way? There are some things you can do.

Nothing at all

Our ear wax exists to protect our ears from water, bacteria, and bugs that might get into our eardrums. Probably if you live in places with lots of small critters, you’re going to need your ear wax often.

Therefore, if you’ve got no problems at all, it’s best to just leave it alone. It’s practically zero waste because you don’t need anything to clean it, which is very eco friendly. You can wipe excess ear wax just with your towel after you take a bath or shower or if you think there’s too much build up, you can go to a doctor. But before that, you can also

Use a cleaner made from olive oil or hydrogen peroxide

Give a few drops of hydrogen peroxide into your ear (first you lie down on your side). It’ll make fizzing and popping noises, but it’s okay. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes and tilt your head to a sink, draining the wax and the remaining solution out of your ear.

Don’t have hydrogen peroxide? Use your handy dandy olive oil (seriously, what can’t you do with olive oil?). American Hearing Research Foundation stated that when you add two or three drops of olive oil into your ear, it will dissolve your ear wax or soften it and the wax can get out of your ears on its own.

Have anything to add to our alternative list? Tell us in the comments down below.




The LastSwab Is a Reusable Replacement for Q-Tips

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