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Have you ever thought about how to properly dispose of a Q-tip after you’ve used it? Most of us toss them in the bin after cleaning our ears without a second thought, but this is actually not the proper way to dispose of these convenient cotton swabs. In this article, we take a look at how to properly dispose of Q-tips and whether or not they’re harmful to the environment.

What Are Q-Tips Made Out Of?


You may not know that Q-tips are a brand name for a specific type of cotton swab on a stick and not an overall umbrella term (although it is generally used as such!). The Q-tip brand itself does not contain plastic like several of its competitors, with its applicator made out of bonded paper and plastic. gives us the breakdown of how their products are made and what they are made from:

“Q-tips® cotton swabs are made with 100% pure cotton (non-sterile)- all natural materials (unlike some other cotton swab brands). The applicator is made of bonded paper and paperboard which is sustainably sourced and specially manufactured to retain its form and to allow for flexibility and safety in use. Adhesive is used to maintain the attachment of the cotton fiber to the applicator.”

Are Q-Tips Bad For The Environment?

As mentioned, the Q-tip brand itself has made great strides in making their products more environmentally friendly and exclude plastic from their applicators. Unfortunately, the plastic applicators found on several cotton swabs are in fact damaging to the environment.

Clarify Green tells us why certain kinds of cotton swabs are comparable to plastic straws when it comes to environmental damage:

“Being so small and light, q-tips end up littering our oceans, not unlike straws. Although q-tips are now made out of paper (Yay!), they used to be made from plastic and not all countries have made the switch to paper just yet. This means that there are still q-tips that end up polluting our oceans and particularly harming seahorses. So, to answer the question: Yes, q-tips are bad for the environment, BUT they are making an effort towards a more eco-friendly product.”

Can Q-Tips Be Recycled?

While Q-tips should not be thrown in the recycle bin, they can in fact be composted – if they’re made with paper. The Q-tip brand itself is biodegradable, making it the perfect candidate for your compost bin after cleaning your ears.

Recyclebank explains why some Q-tips can be composted, while others cannot:

“When you’re shopping for cotton swabs, opt for the ones made with paper sticks, such as Q-tips. They are biodegradable, so they can be composted (even with a little earwax on them). By the way, cotton balls are also compostable, as long as they’re free from non-compostable things (like nail polish remover).”

We offer a wide variety of waste disposal options, including how to correctly dispose of Q-tips and other common household items. Reach out to us to see what we can offer you.

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