Yes, small and insignificant to the eye but would change the planet as we know it. These plastic earbuds are essential to us all and as little as they are they still have a negative impact on our environment as well as our marine life.
I'm sure you've seen the disturbing photos of poor seabirds and turtles being impacted on by these bud stems read on just to find out how much better.
As an alternative to the plastic ones which end up in landfills, on beaches, and ingested by numerous marine animals, they are a lot more sustainable.
Cotton Buds are such a small and ordinary product that it is easy not to think about their impact on the environment. When you flush them down the toilet or throw them away, the small buds make their way into our oceans. In the world’s water, plastic litter is mistaken for microorganisms small marine animals would eat making the plastic enter our food chains and killing marine animals.
However we must use them, the worldwide market is estimated to be over 500 billion pieces in 2020. Cotton buds are the 8th most found piece of plastic pollution found on our beaches. Because they are plastic they cannot be recycled and too often find their ways in nature where they will not be disposed of or disintegrated for at least 100 years and threaten marine life. An item that is so easily disposed of and used for less than a minute should be biodegradable.
Eco-friendly cotton buds
The main alternatives to plastic cotton buds are bamboo cotton buds and paper cotton buds. Both alternatives are better than plastic. Bamboo sticks, however, are eco-friendlier than paper cotton buds, which are made from wood and paper glue. The raw bamboo stick needs fewer resources to be made therefore reduces your carbon footprint.
Some people now say bamboo is the green diamonds that we have been looking for. If the bamboo vs plastic debate is going to be in favour of bamboo then we should look at the reasons why we should use it as an alternative.
Bamboo has been used in Asia alone for centuries and for a good reason. It’s;
- cheap to manufacture,
It is easily and quickly available. And so, it’s already well-positioned to keep up with any increase in customer and stock markets.
Moreover, it is also an eco-friendly renewable crop. Therefore, as it is collected, it can be replanted and produced again. Many species of Bamboo grown in the right conditions can reach adulthood in a couple of months. Far faster than most trees which can take years or even decades.
There is also little need to use pesticides or fertilizers because Bamboo has natural antifungal and antibacterial properties.
To add to this, growing Bamboo typically uses less water than trees
Researchers suggest this is as a result of better storage of water in the growing Bamboo shoots and less leaf foliage per plant.
As well, we can use it, to plant more and help to decrease carbon emissions at the same time as bamboo delivers 35% more oxygen than the similar volume of trees.
Furthermore, unlike plastic, Bamboo is also fully biodegradable and compostable. As a result, as any natural Bamboo products do get to the end of their valuable lives, once cut they will not take thousands of years to decay meanwhile plastic takes up to 100 years to decompose.
If this were to happen and we were to make no changes in our plastic consumption by 2050. 45% of the world's oceans will still contain plastic.
Choosing Bamboo Over Plastic
We use over one million plastic bags each minute and studies suggest as little as 9 per cent of the plastic we use is recycled or reused in the average household.
We have taken our planet for granted, dumping waste irresponsibly and now we are seeing the impacts. Our actions have to change if we are to make a serious impact on our plastic waste and consumption. We all know we need to do something about it. But what can we do?
We also have to take into thought the production method involved in making plastic and the influence it has on the environment. We use our finite oil reserves to make new plastic. Unfortunately, this oil comes from drilling and refining both of which unavoidably cause more harm to the environment than developing a field of Bamboo.
And once we have oil we then use more energy and chemicals to manufacture it into the many models and alternatives of plastic that we have become used to having in our daily lives yet haven't thought about the impacts of using it.
So, is bamboo a viable option?
Yes. When we take a look around our homes, there is plastic everywhere.
Our toothbrushes, shampoo bottles, water bottles, plastic containers and those are just to name a few.
However, quite a lot of our household items can be replaced with bamboo.
Bamboo toothbrushes can replace plastic toothbrushes. Chopping boards made from Bamboo can replace plastic chopping boards. Bamboo makes for a great option to disposable plastic plates and cutlery. We can even use Bamboo straws or metal straws instead of plastic straws.
Further, we’re also starting to see increasing amounts of textiles used for clothes being sourced from Bamboo fibres. Reducing our reliance on petroleum-based synthetics often blended with cotton which typically requires more water and energy than Bamboo to provide the end fibres used in our clothes an example of this is polyester which I'm sure you know is probably in every single piece of your clothing.
In the UK only it is estimated that we handle 1.8 billion, mostly single-use plastic, cotton buds every year.
High usage and widespread irresponsible 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.
Plastic cotton bud stems make up a significant proportion of the sewage-related debris recorded in UK beach surveys.
Between 2015 and 2019 cotton buds were in the top 10 items found during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean.
During 2019, 22 cotton buds were found for every 100 meters of UK beach surveyed.
Not only is cotton bud pollution widespread, with cotton buds ending up on coastlines over the world, already in the ocean they act as a threat to wildlife and the environment particularly the marine environment.
Cotton buds as small and insignificant as we may think to have a long thin shape which can pierce the internal organs of marine animals that may accidentally eat them and plastic stem regularly turn up in the stomachs of seabirds and turtles found washed up on beaches either starving because they are not well enough to find food themselves or bleeding internally and have developed illnesses.
As they decompose they do not only add to microplastic pollution which is easily found in most of the fish we consume but remain to pose a threat to wildlife throughout the food chain from ingestion or through toxic release.
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