Sainsbury’s has become the first retailer to publicly commit to the removal of 100% of plastics in its cotton buds. The move means the adhesive, which holds the cotton bud to the stem, will be replaced by a fully biodegradable substance that – unlike common strong adhesives – will be 100% free from plastic. The retailer is already in talks to find a suitable replacement adhesive.
At present common adhesives used on cotton buds are not biodegradable, and Sainsbury’s is the first retailer to pledge publicly to introduce a new biodegradable glue. What’s more, once a practical solution has been found, Sainsbury’s will share the details of the adhesive amongst the industry so that other producers can choose to make the switch.
The move comes after the retailer announced its plans to remove the plastic stems in the products, replacing them with a biodegradable paper option. Sainsbury’s has committed to changing the stem in 2017, and hopes to phase in the new biodegradable adhesive at the same time. This would mean that the buds would be 100% biodegradable. Each year, Sainsbury’s sells over 300 million own-brand cotton buds, with the revised products expected to remove over 50 tonnes of plastic from production.
While cotton buds are not designed to be flushed away, despite on-pack warnings, many end up in the sea as consumers flush them down the toilet rather than disposing of them in household waste. The Marine Conservation Society’s 2016 Big Beach Clean Report found that the number of cotton bud sticks found on UK beaches had doubled since 2012, from an average of 11 to 24 for every 100 metres. This move means neither plastic stems nor the plastic based adhesive will end up in the sea.
In addition to these changes, Sainsbury’s also plans to increase the prominence of the ‘do not flush’ warnings on the front of cotton bud packs, introducing a new industry-standard marking to help advise customers.
Speaking of the switch Judith Batchelar, Director of Sainsbury’s Brand, said: “We’re always looking for ways to make our products more sustainable and switching to a biodegradable adhesive to our own brand cotton buds is a great example, furthering our promise to remove the plastic stems. Openness and sharing within the industry is going to be key in driving the uptake of sustainable choices, which is why we are committed to share the new biodegradable glue once it’s developed. This is more than making a competitive product, it’s doing what’s fundamentally right for the environment.”
Dr Clare Cavers, Research Officer for environmental charity Fidra, commented: “Cotton buds should always be bagged and binned but we know that many people still flush them away. Education is key and these changes from Sainsbury’s will have a huge impact on marine health, especially with their pledge to share the revised formula with competitors. It’s great to see this sustainable way of thinking continuing to prevail.”
Natalie Fee, founder of plastic pollution campaign group City to Sea, added: “Preventing plastics from reaching the ocean is essential for ensuring the health of our marine wildlife and also from stopping plastics entering the food chain. It’s great that retailers have agreed to switch the stick, but this move from Sainsbury’s goes even further to protect our oceans.”
The move is part of Sainsbury’s continued drive to heighten sustainability across all areas of its business, with the retailer previously setting out a number of public commitments within its Sustainability Plan. Included within this is a pledge to source sustainable fish whilst protecting marine ecosystems. Last year Sainsbury’s was acknowledged with the ‘Seafood Champion Award for Leadership’ at the Seafood Summit, recognising leadership by bringing together seafood stakeholders to improve sustainability. Elsewhere the retailer a supporter of projects like the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, which works to protect our oceans by tackling the issue of lost or abandoned fishing gear.