Are Cotton Wool Pads Bad for the Environment?




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Are Disposable Cotton Wool Pads Bad for the Environment?

The short answer is yes. Single-use cotton pads are not that eco-friendly, despite being made from cotton, and are a great candidate to switch for reusable cotton pad alternatives if you are looking at living a more sustainable lifestyle.

While many people are getting on board with the fight against single-use plastic, switching to bamboo toothbrushes and using reusable water bottles and reusable coffee cups on a daily basis, cotton is often overlooked despite having a significant environmental impact.

Cotton may be a renewable resource, it literally grows on trees, but it also requires huge amounts of water and high levels of pesticides and fertilizers to grow. Yet the fast fashion and beauty industries seem to view it as a disposable resource, and something that it is perfectly acceptable to use and then throw away.

Are cotton balls bad for the environment? Why?

Cotton may be a renewable resource, unlike oil and therefore plastic, but did you know that it can take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. 1kg of cotton is about the amount needed to make a t-shirt or about 15-20 packs of cotton rounds. Plus all that water has to come from somewhere which often means huge amounts of environmental degradation.

As well as water usage non-organic cotton uses vast amounts of chemicals, pesticides and fertilizers, which are detrimental to humans and wildlife. Using pesticides depleats the soil, pollutes local waterways and can have horrific health impacts on the people responsible for spraying the crops.

Once the cotton has been grown further chemicals are used in the process of turning it into smooth and compact cotton rounds. The bleaching and processing also means that cotton pads don’t simply biodegrade as you might imagine they would.

Do cotton wool pads contain plastic?

Yes! Some do but not all. Cotton wool pads are frequently treated with synthetic fibres to keep them in shape or give a smoother touch, see our Guide to Sustainable Makeup Removal for alternatives,. In other words, they’re made of plastic and will not completely biodegrade in landfills.

How Long Do Cotton Pads Take To Decompose?

Pads made with 100% natural materials such as cotton and wool take around 12 months to biodegrade in a compost pile. Although it can be faster or slower depending on the moisture levels, size of your bin and temperature that you keep them at while they break down.

Cotton is biodegradable and in the right condition can break down in weeks. Natural pads are classed as brown compost, along with things like straw and wood. Cotton pads are a bit slower than green compost to break down. They take around 5-12 months, depending on the moisture levels, the heat of the compost and the surface area.

However, as previously mentioned a lot contain synthetic fibres (aka plastic) and these will not breakdown in landfill or compost.

Is cotton wool recyclable?

Not at all! Cotton wool is not recyclable, so it should be disposed of in your garbage bin or compost bin if you are using one. Do not flush cotton wool down the toilet as it will expand and obstruct pipes when put in water.

What are the alternatives to cotton wool pads?

So if cotton wool pads are to go the way of cotton buds and single-use plastic bags what are the alternatives? Reusable! Quite simply let’s keep it simple and go back to using reusable wipes, pads and cotton rounds. These are much better for the environment and for your wallet. They are very easy to use, just pop them in the wash and hey presto, problem solved! Plus you can get a load of gorgeous pattern choices to liven up your face cleaning routine!

Are makeup wipes better than cotton wool

First of all makeup wipes, the ones that come preloaded with product in little wet wipe style packets are absolutely not the answer! Just like wet wipes they are full of plastics, don’t biodegrade, block sewers and end up in rivers and oceans. Plus, even the biodegradable versions seem to come in plastic packaging. And while we get that they are convenient they are a really bad idea if you are looking at being sustainable.

Having a packet of biodegradable wipes that are not full of harmful chemicals you can use on a camping trip might be necessary but even this should not be viewed as an environmentally sustainable option for every day. Not to mention the fact that this type of wipe often just spreads the dirt around rather than effectively removing it. Reusable wipes make a fantastic alternatives for single use wipes. 

Choosing organic cotton or reusable pads

Really there are two main options when you’re looking to ditch cotton wool pads.

  1. Accept that you want something you can throw away and choose organic cotton pads or cotton wool to minimise the negative impact.
  2. Choose one of a number of excellent reusable alternatives.

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