Scottish Government: Plastic Cotton Bud Consultation

Cotton buds 

Scottish Government: Plastic Cotton Bud Consultation

The Scottish Government has now published a response report following its public consultation to ban the sale and manufacture of plastic stemmed cotton buds in Scotland. We were really encouraged to see that the vast majority of respondents, both individuals and organisations, supported the proposal to introduce a ban. Fidra believes a ban is the right course of action for the following reasons:

Plastic cotton buds impact our marine environment 

  • There are, on average, 27 cotton buds for every 100 meters of UK beach. 
  • Plastic cotton buds are not only aesthetically undesirable, being found on some of the UK’s most beautiful and iconic beaches, they also pose a significant threat to marine life. Find out here why they are risky eating for wildlife and what toxic concentrations they accumulate.  

Campaigns to promote behaviour change have failed to stop the incorrect disposal of these items down toilets in the long term.  

  • While cotton buds should never be flushed, effectiveness of public awareness campaigns (such as Don’t Flush It messages) have been limited in their success.  Improving appropriate disposal of cotton buds is imperative, but changing the material used to produce them, makes them far less likely to escape through waste water systems and has to potential to reduce an unnecessary and inappropriate use of plastic material. Find out more about how cotton buds end up on our beaches

Alternatives are available  

  • There already exists a fully biodegradable and readily available alternative to plastic stemmed cotton buds, in this case, stems made from FSC Certified paper. 
  • Indeed, many of the UK’s largest retailers are now using paper alternatives. For example, the UK-based company Polyco, produces Waitrose’s FSC-certified paper stemmed cotton buds. 

Industry has shown change is possible 

  • Johnson & Johnson Ltd, the UK market leader for cotton buds was the first manufacturer to agree to replace their brand-defining blue plastic cotton bud stems with paper. They publicly announced this in March 2016 at the same time as the retailer Waitrose made the same commitment.
  • Other major UK retailers have also change their sourcing and/or production (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons and Boots UK). For a list of retailers and manufactures that have changed from supplying plastic stemmed cotton buds to biodegradable alternatives, see the Good Buddy page on our website. 


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