Plastic-Stemmed Cotton Buds Are Now Illegal in Scotland

Public Domain. Unsplash / James Pond

It's one less form of plastic pollution on beaches and coastlines.

Scotland's ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds has finally come into force, nearly two years since I first wrote about it for TreeHugger. While most manufacturers have transitioned to paper-handled buds since the change was announced, others have dragged their feet, but this new law will weed them out and force shoppers to make greener choices.

Cotton buds (or Q-Tips, as they're commonly referred to) are a pervasive form of marine pollution. People often flush them down the toilet after use, then they wash up on beaches and coastlines around the world in high numbers. The Marine Conservation Society always includes cotton buds on its top-ten list of beach litter and estimates that its volunteers have collected 150,000 of them over the past 25 years. In the UK, 1.8 billion cotton buds are sold annually.

Roseanna Cunningham, environment secretary for Scotland, is quoted in EcoWatch:

"I am proud that the Scottish government has become the first UK administration to ban plastic-stemmed cotton buds. Single-use plastic products are not only wasteful but generate unnecessary litter that blights our beautiful beaches and green spaces while threatening our wildlife on land and at sea."

A switch to paper promises better biodegradability and less of a threat to wildlife, as buds have been found in the stomachs of birds and turtles. BBC reports that, by switching from plastics to paper-handled buds, supermarket chain Waitrose is "estimated to have saved 21 tonnes of plastic through the policy."

Scotland has adopted a Deposit Return Scheme that hopes to capture 90 percent of used glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans. It will also ban plastic stirrers, cutlery, and polystyrene food and drink containers by next summer, as required by the EU.