They’re lurking in travel toiletries cases, bathroom drawers and even makeup bags, these small seemingly non-threatening bits of cotton and plastic that people use to clean and sanitize, apply and remove cosmetics, and make crafts. But the cotton swab (AKA cotton bud, AKA Q-Tip) doesn’t just disappear from the planet once you’re done poking in and around your various facial orifices with it.
According to a recent report put together by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the UK alone uses approximately 13.2 billion cotton swabs per year, more than any other European country, with many of the plastic-stemmed items ending up in landfills if they’re thrown out, or in the oceans if they’re flushed down the toilet.
And you know what lives in the ocean, right?
That’s right, millions and millions of adorable fish — OK, plus some terrifying ones, too…we’ve all seen Blue Planet — and they’re all chowing down on broken-down plastic particles from the billions of flushed plastic q-tip handles.
In fact, according to the 2016 Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean, plastic cotton swabs were the most common plastic, sewage-travelling trash found on UK shores and rivers. Not plastic water bottles or plastic bags, but cotton swabs. To combat the epidemic, some brands, like family cosmetics company Johnson & Johnson, have made the switch to non-plastic swabs, which are biodegradable.
The British government is also taking steps to prevent plastics from clogging up the bodies of water that surround the UK.
— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) April 19, 2018
Across the pond, North Americans are likely swiping and tossing just as many of the everyday sanitary objects. And there may not be a ban in site in Canada or the US, but making the switch to a non-plastic option and always disposing of them properly can make a difference.