Plastic-stemmed cotton buds are contributing to the global marine plastic problem, damaging the marine environment, increasing risk to public health from contact on beaches and bathing waters and risking health further when fragments of plastic enter the food chain. They are in our seas because people are continuing to flush them down toilets and sewage treatment works cannot prevent all of them reaching the sea. When entering sewage systems the plastic stems do not settle with organics, their buoyancy allows them to flow through plant equipment and their narrow diameter means they are not caught by all screens.
In January 2018 the Scottish Government proposed to introduce legislation which bans the manufacture and sale of plastic-stemmed cotton buds in Scotland. A public consultation was held from 27 April – 22 June 2018, and the subsequent consultation response report published on 30 July 2018. The Environmental Protection (Cotton Buds)(Scotland) Regulations 2019 came into force on 12 October 2019.
Plastic cotton bud stems are consistently observed to constitute approximately 5-10% of marine debris surveyed in European seas and feature in the ten most common items found in Marine Conservation Society beach surveys in Scotland. We hope to see this figure decrease following implementation of the ban.