Multinational Johnson & Johnson is ditching plastic in favor of paper for its cotton swab handles, the company announced. They hope this move will reduce the quantity of plastic dumped into the ocean.

Cotton swabs.

Image credits Rakesh Naidu / Pexels.

There’s a lot of plastic in our oceans. Roughly 300 million tonnes of the stuff are produced yearly, with an estimated 10% finding its way in the ocean. If nothing changes, the World Economic Forum warns that in 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish.

Everyday items make up a lot of this quantity. In 2013, Scottish environmentalist charity group Fidra pointed to the plastic handles of cotton swabs as a prime offender. Last year, they were the most often seen sewage-related plastic waste during the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean. Now, Johnson & Johnson hope that they can help limit this pollution by taking plastic swabs off the market.

Earmarked for an upgrade

The company will switch production to full paper handles on Monday, with the new products expected to hit shops in Britain sometime in the next few weeks.

“We recognise that our products have an environmental footprint, and that’s why we’re working hard to continually improve and champion best practice in sustainability, in line with our company’s founding principles,” said Niamh Finan, Group Marketing Manager.

The Marine Conservation Society has been reporting increasing amounts of cotton swab sticks recovered from UK beaches each year. The average number of swabs has more than doubled from 11 swabs/100 meters of beach in 2012 to 24/100 meters in last year’s Clean — they found a staggering 13,500 swabs on a single beach run in Scotland. J&J said the new products will prevent thousands of tons of waste from reaching the sea.

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“We commend Johnson & Johnson for leading this change in product material, it is an important part of the solution to the growing problem of plastic pollution in our seas,” said Fidra Research Officer Dr Clare Cavers.

Fidra has also launched the Cotton Swab Project, a project which aims to convince other manufacturers to switch from plastic to paper in their swabs. Still, the group warns that greener production methods should come hand in hand with greater consumer awareness if we hope to keep the ocean clean/

“A step change in consumer behaviour is needed to ensure people dispose of waste responsibly and only flush toilet paper. However, we urge everyone to remember a very simple message – only the 3Ps – pee, poo and paper should go down the toilet, everything else should go in the bin.”

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