The benefits of reuse over biodegradable single use items.

Lifestyle Plastic Reduction Reduce Reuse Recycle

I was recently asked by a friend, which was better – plastic free, (but single use) cotton swabs, or reusable ones? I answered as best I could – my logical thought process said that if they are made from a natural product that could biodegradable, then that was definitely for the best. It got me thinking – was it actually the best advice? It seemed to be a bit of a grey area for me. Should I be choosing biodegradable and compostable products, or reusing more? What are the other effects, (other than single use plastic pollution) that influence the choices I make to help reduce my family’s environmental impact? I decided to delve a bit deeper to make sure the decisions I have been making are the best informed in the long run.

I was actually quite surprised by what I discovered, I guess a lot of my thought processes are down to the sustainability uprising as well as the way that information is presented. We often think we are making better choices when maybe we are not. It is easy to assume that a disposable item made from natural and biodegradable materials is a better choice than a plastic one; yet according to an article on The Telegraph, “Greenpeace has said that it is "dangerous" to think that substituting one set of disposable packaging for another is eco-friendly.” The article then states that “In a new report, the campaign group has found that wooden substitutes used by supermarkets cause deforestation, and bioplastics which decompose take decades to do so and release harmful pollutants into water and soil.” Of course this relates to biodegradable packaging or disposable wooden cutlery etc, but it could just as easily be applied to my query on cotton wool swabs.

It would seem that maybe my advice wasn’t the best. I suppose it's obvious really - there is much more to the environmental impact of a product than what happens to it at the end of its life. What about how it got there and where it came from – how does that have an impact? Visually we can see the destruction plastic is having – we see images of washed up plastic on exotic beaches, or more locally plastic litter on the side of our pavements, but what about the bits we can’t see? How about the effect of manufacturing methods and logistical processes? I came across this promotional video from LastObject – (which coincidently is about reusable ear swabs), which explains these impacts well. It seems plastic is just one layer in the stack of choices we have to consider when making more sustainable choices.

I have concluded that plastic is of course a horror, but that there is much more to being eco-friendly than just reducing our plastic consumption. My focus will be on making long lasting choices; choosing reusable items that are actually sustainable in the long run and doing my research properly, without making assumptions. 

We all do things differently, but it can be easy to get stuck in our comfort zones without knowing why. A simple way to look at making impactful changes to your everyday life is to look at your daily routine. For example, do you take your lunch to work or do you buy it? If you buy it, do you have your own cutlery, or do you use disposables every day? If so which type - would you be better off investing in something that you can reuse everyday? Most reusable alternatives can be purchased as investment pieces – meaning you are unlikely to need to keep on replacing them. Buy a reusable that you know will be durable and stand the test of time. Buying a stainless-steel lunchbox, is a wiser choice than buying a plastic one where you know the clips will fail after a year or so. Invest in the best you can afford so that won’t need to keep on upgrading.

I’m finishing my research with another excerpt from The Telegraph which relates to the public as much as it does businesses: Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK: “Companies swapping single-use plastic for other throwaway items need to think again.” “We can’t carry on using up land or chopping down forests to make cutlery, cups or packaging that gets used for a matter of moments and could pollute our planet for hundreds of years to come. It’s grotesque.” “Businesses like supermarkets and cafes must switch to a reuse and refill model. That means metal cutlery, proper cups, water refill stations, and selling products in refillable packaging or none at all. It’s common sense.” 

If you want some further reading – I found this page on to be informative – you can even download their app to locate your closest water refill station for when you are out and about. Find the app here. And whilst i’m writing - good on M&S for expanding their trial of refillable products which they say are outselling the packaged equivalents. You can find the article on The Guardian here.

SHOP OUR our Plastic Free Swaps section HERE.

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