The Background

The scale of cotton bud pollution

 In the UK alone it is estimated that we use 1.8 billion, mostly single use plastic, cotton buds every year.  High usage and widespread improper disposal (flushing used cotton buds down toilets, rather than putting them in the bin), has resulted in the pollution of inland waterways and the marine environment.Copyright Kath Polley at Geren Argyll Designs

Plastic cotton bud stems make up a significant proportion of the sewage-related debris recorded in UK beach surveys. Between 2015 and 2018 cotton buds were in the top 10 items found during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean. During 2018, 22 cotton buds were found for every 100 meters of UK beach2 surveyed.

Not only is cotton bud pollution widespread, with cotton buds ending up on coastlines across the world, once in the ocean they pose a threat to wildlife and the environment. A cotton buds long thin shape can pierce the internal organs of marine animals that may accidentally ingest them, and plastic stems regularly turn up in the stomachs of seabirds. As they breakdown they not only add to microplastic pollution but continue to pose a threat to wildlife throughout the food chain from ingestion or toxic release


 Our aims

Fidra identified plastic stemmed cotton buds as an unsightly, pervasive and harmful marine pollutant. Importantly, we identified plastic cotton buds as a plastic pollution problem that could be solved and, prior to the current wave of interest in marine pollution inspired by the BBC’s Blue Planet II, we saw it as an opportunity to pave the way for change in tackling marine plastics.

Our hope was that if we could highlight the problems this small single use plastic item can cause and successfully solve them, we would not only address one of the top ten litters items that pollute our beaches but also show industry and government that change is possible and plastic could be replaced and rethought in other everyday products and single-use plastic items.

Addressing and replacing plastic in Cotton Buds would act as a catalyst to reduce our reliance on single-use plastic items. A clear problem with a clear solution

The Cotton Bud Project Our Approach