Let me be totally honest here. I don’t use q-tips. The thought of having something in my ear smaller than my pinky finger gives me the willies.
That is not to say I live in a q-tip free household. I do not. My husband uses q-tips like they are going out of style. Apparently he has ‘itchy ears’, an affliction I do not have luckily.
Finding an environmentally friendly q-tip is important to me because I don’t like waste, even if it’s not my own, I feel responsible.
We only have one planet, right? Switching q-tips (or totally giving them up) might seem like small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but I am of the mindset of ‘start small for big change’ and it doesn’t get much smaller than a q-tip!
Let’s start with the 411 on regular q-tips.
Are Q-tips biodegradable?
Yes, as a matter of fact they are biodegradable when composted. See below for explanation.
Can you compost used q-tips?
Yes, According to the Q-tip FAQ page:
Q-tips® cotton swabs are made with 100% pure cotton (non-sterile)- all natural materials (unlike some other cotton swab brands). The applicator is made of bonded paper and paperboard which is sustainably sourced and specially manufactured to retain its form and to allow for flexibility and safety in use. Adhesive is used to maintain the attachment of the cotton fiber to the applicator.
Are q-tips bad for the environment?
Being so small and light, q-tips end up littering our oceans, not unlike straws.
Although q-tips are now made out of paper (Yay!), they used to be made from plastic and not all countries have made the switch to paper just yet. This means that there are still q-tips that end up polluting our oceans and particularly harming seahorses.
So, to answer the question: Yes, q-tips are bad for the evironment, BUT they are making an effort towards a more eco-friendly product.
What do I use instead of q-tips?
Here’s the thing. I don’t think q-tips are the worst thing on the planet (or for the planet for that matter). They are biodegradable when composted and the inner packaging is recyclable. I mean, it could be a lot worse.
If you set up a little pail or container for compostables in your bathroom, q-tips would stay out of the trash altogether.
There is still the plastic outside wrapper that is non-recyclable, so by no means is it a perfectly environmentally friendly product.
As well, I understand if the thought of a single use item leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I get it. I don’t like having packages of stuff hanging around and buying the same thing over and over again.
I try to look for as close to a zero-waste product as I can find.
Luckily, there are a couple of options for you.
The Humble Co. has a great environmentally friendly q-tip alternative for those who just can’t give up the ‘tip.
- Fair trade
- Sustainably grown bamboo stem
- Organic cotton tips
- Packaging is recyclable paper
With no plastic used in the packaging, these bamboo q-tips have an environmental leg up on traditional q-tips.
LastSwab is a reusable, sustainable and sanitary alternative to cotton swabs, buds and Q-tips.
- Corn-based carry case
- Easy to clean (soap and water)
- Two versions: one for cleaning, and one for makeup
Keep in mind that there is a glaring negative when it comes to LastSwab. Unfortunately, it is made from rubber and plastic, which makes it unrecyclable at the end of its life.
On a postitive note, LastSwab lasts a lot longer than a box of q-tips, so the waste is minimal in comparison to the plastic wrap of traditional q-tip boxes. They also have a reusable q-tip specifically for makeup removal, which is a bonus.
While this product is not a perfectly environmentally friendly q-tip alternative, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and worth checking out.
My (Un)Professional Opinion
Honestly, the easiest solution to q-tip waste is to simply stop using them. You don’t need them, if used incorrectly q-tips cause more harm than good.
If you use q-tips for makeup removal, try using a cloth instead. The environmentally friendly alternative to q-tips is still not totally eco-friendly as you have to throw it in the garbage when its life expires.
What do you use to clean your ears? Does the thought of jamming a q-tip in there give you the willies too? Let me know in the comments below.
Cheers, and have an awesome day!