Simple swap: cotton swabs

Do you use cotton swabs? It’s been a very tricky thing to find a Zero Waste alternative for in our home.

I don’t have a perfect answer, but since I’ve received so many questions about it, I figured I’d might as well write about it already!

If you use a swab to apply or remove makeup, it’s relatively easy to find an alternative—there are plenty of makeup tools out there for this purpose, or even a simple cloth.

As far as using them to clean your ears—we all know we’re not supposed to do this, as we can risk hurting our ears, and health professionals say it’s not even necessary. Buuuuut, a lot of people do it anyway. If you can go without, or reduce your use, that’s the best option.

Can’t live without them? I’ve tried to break down the options for you:

  • Conventional cotton swabs with plastic rods. These are awful—one of the worst examples of plastic because they’re used once, cannot be recycled, and never break down. Please avoid whenever possible!
  • Cotton cotton swabs with paper rods. These are a step up, since the product itself doesn’t contain plastic; however, the box is still wrapped in plastic overwrap (typically). It’s also important to remember that conventional cotton is a destructive crop, using vast amounts of pesticides and water. To be honest, I don’t believe it’s a good idea for any disposable product to be made from cotton. And then there’s the issue of the paper—how is it sourced? It it recycled? It is from old growth forests? Nevertheless, these cotton swabs can typically be composted, which is good.
  • Organic cotton or bamboo swabs with paper rods. Another step up, since these crops are better for the environment. Still, there’s the issue of the overwrap (for most brands) and the disposable nature of the product itself.
  • Reusable swabs. There are a few of these on the market, including the LastSwab. I’m a little skeptical of these, as they’re made in factories overseas from plastic that cannot be effectively disposed of at the end of their lifespan.
  • Bamboo ear picks, but I haven’t used these myself. Have you used them? I’d love to hear your experience!

Is there anything I’ve missed? What do you use?


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