Two of the UK’s largest supermarkets have announced plans to ban the sale of cotton buds with plastic stems in a bid to cut waste and reduce plastic pollution in rivers and seas.


Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s have committed to replacing the plastic stems with biodegradable paper ones by the end of 2017 in their own brand products.


Other major companies, including Morrisons, Asda and Boots, are currently considering a plastic ban, while Waitrose, the Co-operative and Johnson & Johnson have already committed to paper stems. The move follows a growing campaign “Switch The Stick” that now has in excess of 142,000 backers.


Plastic cotton bud stems are the number one item of plastic, sewage-related debris on UK beaches and rivers. Small plastic items can be particularly detrimental to marine life as animals confuse them with food. Plastic is found in the stomachs of Loggerhead Turtles, Seabirds and many species of caught fish, so humans eating seafood can also ingest the plastic.

Plastic bags found on UK beaches by the Marine Conservation Society’s annual beach clean fell by more than half in 2016, after a 5p charge was levied on the bags by the government. Ministers have also said they will ban plastic microbeads in toiletries, which also wash into the oceans.

Natalie Fee, founder of the City to Sea campaign to cut plastic pollution, said: “We’re delighted with the announcements to ‘switch the stick’ from plastic to paper stem buds. Whilst they still shouldn’t be flushed, this move will stop millions of plastic stems ending up in the marine environment each year and is a huge win in the fight against marine plastic pollution.”

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said: “We have been working hard to improve this product. Our new cotton buds, with 100% biodegradable stems, will be available before the end of 2017.”

A Tesco’s spokesman said: “We’re committed to ensuring all of our own label cotton bud products will be made with paper stems, and will do this by the end of 2017.”

“These are great commitments from Tesco and Sainsbury’s, but we’d like to see much more prominent ‘don’t flush’ labelling on cotton bud sticks,” said Emma Cunningham at the Marine Conservation Society. “We found over 23 [plastic] cotton bud sticks on every 100m of beaches we cleaned in September. The message is clear: only pee, poo and paper should go down the loo.”

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