Is Cotton Wool Biodegradable?
Cotton is a product many of us use daily and so it’s only natural to wonder what happens to it when you’ve used it and discarded it. You would think that since it comes from a plant that this wouldn’t be a complicated issue but there are a few factors that come into play that you may not have considered.
So, is cotton wool biodegradable?
As is turns out, it is not. Cotton has quite an impact from an ecological perspective and this product that we use every day comes with a lot of considerations in both its manufacture and its disposal.
Today we’ll discuss this impact so that you can understand why cotton wool is not biodegradable and what you can do to use this product responsibly and to help balance things out.
Cotton has a bit of a heavy footprint to begin with
For a ‘throwaway’ item, cotton fabrication has quite an involved process. For one thing, you go through 5283 gallons of water just to make 1 kilo (just a little over 2 pounds) of cotton. Cotton also requires quite a bit of insecticide to keep those bugs away so that the plants will grow and the harvest may be maximized.
Quite a bit, in fact, as it is attributed to 24% of the insecticides used in the U.S., China, and India, Demand can require the production of 120 million bales per year between these major producers of cotton and so you can begin to see what a heavy footprint it already brings to the table.
Cotton wool is all-natural, though, so what is the problem?
It’s sort of a catch-22. Yes, cotton wool is all-natural and so one would deduce that it would be completely biodegradable. The problem is that when you use it, the cotton is no longer ‘pure’, but rather chemically treated at this point. It’s got chemical polish remover on it now or medicines that can leech into the soil.
Further clouding the issue is that not all cotton wool is all-natural, with some companies adding synthetic fibers to their cotton wool products in order to make them more durable or aesthetically pleasing. This means that when you dispose of them you are actually burying plastic that will not degrade properly in the landfill where it ends up.
Factors such as these really complicate the issue but there are some simple things that can be done on your end to help minimize the damage
What can I do to help balance things out?
First off, one of the best ways to deal with this issue is to go with reusable cotton wool instead of disposables. You can purchase these or you can make them on your own by cutting up an old cotton towel or other bit of cotton cloth. You can also, if you like, simply purchase reusable cotton balls from a vendor that you trust.
This lets you use your favorite medium and instead of throwing it away, you can place the used cotton balls in a bag and wash them, dry them, and simply reuse them. As more and more people reuse their cotton the demand for new cotton should slowly go down over time, just be sure to get your friends in on it so that word spreads. It all starts with you!
There are also a number of alternatives available on the market that you can use. Here are some of the more popular examples:
There are many, many reusable products out there and these are just a sampling, you’ll just want to make sure that the cotton involved is 100% organic and that instead of disposing of them you are washing and reusing them until they truly must be replaced.
Some final words
Now you know all about the ‘catch-22’ nature of cotton wool. Yes, it is natural, but once it is used then it has become contaminated and things get a lot more complicated. Thankfully this is something that you can still use, provided that you do the responsible thing by reusing your cotton wool products for as much as is reasonably possible.
Spread the word about using cotton responsibly and when enough people get into the habit the difference of impact can be tremendous. It just takes a little time and a lot of love for nature.