Scotland Bans Plastic-Handled Cotton Buds

CC BY 2.0. Nic McPhee

The ban is expected to reduce Scotland's marine plastic pollution by 50 percent.

Scotland is the first country in the UK to ban plastic cotton buds (also known as swabs or Q-tips). While most supermarkets have already eliminated them, selling only paper-handled ones, many small grocers and corner stores continue to stock imported plastic versions; these will be the target of Scotland's new ban.

The ban stems from growing concern about the number of plastic cotton buds washing up on beaches and shorelines after being flushed down the toilet. And we're not just talking about a few. It's estimated that, by eliminating this source, Scotland will cut its plastic pollution in half.

Scotland's environment secretary, Roseanna Cunningham, said in a speech:

"Despite various campaigns, people are continuing to flush litter down their toilets and this has to stop. Scotland’s sewerage infrastructure collects and treats some 945m litres of waste water each day. These systems are not designed to remove small plastic items such as plastic buds, which can kill marine animals and birds that swallow them." (via the Guardian)

Not to mention the fact that it will make beaches a whole lot nicer to visit and explore without seeing the detritus of people's ear-cleaning attempts all around. Yuck!

Dr. Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, sees the ban as setting an important tone for action on plastic.

"Following the plastic bag charge and the announcement of a deposit and return scheme for [beverage] bottles and cans, this is another good step on the way to a society which uses resources more sensibly. We look forward to further initiatives when the Government’s promised new group on single-use plastic containers, such as coffee cups, reports its work."

It's shocking to think that cotton buds make up about half of all marine litter washed up on UK beaches, especially because they are such an unnecessary product. My doctor has told me they're not even good to use, since they compact the wax and make it harder to get out.

Bea Johnson of the Zero Waste Home maintains that a finger nail can do the job (in private, I hope). Others suggest a Japanese metal ear spoon, a drop of oil daily in the ear to loosen any buildup, and hot showers to flush it out naturally.