As much as we all want to believe dutifully dumping plastic bottles into the recycling bin is saving the world, one body lotion tube at a time, we're at least somewhat aware there are fundamental issues with the efficacy of our recycling initiatives. Namely, the majority (as in over 90%) is in fact discarded and piling up in landfills or making its way to the oceans. This is why you’re seeing more and more beauty companies pivoting from talking about how their packaging is recyclable, and instead about how it is made from recycled materials. Or, the new gold standard of sustainability, reusable.
We’ve seen reusable show up in force in other areas like household and kitchen items—paper towels, water bottles, straws—but the beauty industry was a mostly unexplored territory for extended lifespan products and packages. That's starting to change in a big way. Drugstore and luxury brands alike are putting big bucks into items that let you hold onto the packaging components and purchase refills to create less waste—or making items themselves completely reusable. And brands are getting creative with the products they are redesigning for sustainability. Both Colgate and Hello just launched toothbrushes with aluminum handle and brush head "refills" to cut down on plastic waste by up to 85%, Dieux’s reusable silicone eye patches have taken the guilt out of sheet masking, and Dame’s reusable tampon applicator can prevent up to 12,000 plastic applicators from winding up in landfills.
While people have slowly been embracing these new habits in an effort to cut down on the very real problem of plastic pollution and how it’s affecting climate change, we’re about to test just how far they’re willing to go with the concept as reusable products expand even farther into the personal care space. And it all starts with the humble cotton swab.
LastObject: The Reusable Cotton Swab
Yes, that same fluff-ended stick you use to dig wax out of your ear has entered the reusable category thanks to a Danish company called LastObject. According to co-founder Isabel Aagaard, "The idea for LastSwab came to us when we were researching which single-use items were the most harmful for our planet and the cotton swab was surprisingly quite high on this list. There are 550 billion cotton swabs produced yearly and [they are a single-use item] that people throw away daily."
The LastSwab is made from medical-grade silicone and nylon the brand claims will last for up to 1000 uses. It can be cleaned with soap and water and comes in a biodegradable carrying case made of corn-based materials. It is, frankly, a genius idea that we’re kind of mad we didn’t think of ourselves. Like reusable cotton rounds before it (LastObject does those too, by the way, as well as tissues and a pointed swab for makeup application, all of which come in those same colorful biodegradable cases), it’s a simple solution to single-use products. But, just how willing are people to wash their earwax out in the sink every morning instead of just tossing a swab in the bin and calling it a day?
Are We Ready for This?
Jessica Richards, founder of perennially hip Brooklyn beauty boutique Shen, is betting people are more than ready to level up on their sustainability efforts, which is why she started stocking LastSwab in her shop, which is better known for its luxe clean beauty offerings than as a hotspot for eco-crusaders looking to save the planet, one reusable cotton swab at a time. So, what made her, a cool hunter known for tracking down the next big thing in beauty, decide she needed to add the less-than-sexy LastSwab to her line-up of posh serums and high-end makeup? "When I look at new products to carry, I look towards the future. And, in beauty [as well as personal care], that really is sustainability." she says. "Seeing these made me think of how many Q-tips I personally use at home and how horrible they are for the environment. Not only does the LastSwab save money, but it’s an actionable way to help the planet."
The Bottom Line
Aagaard thinks people are ready for the reusable revolution and the fact that LastSwab was crowdfunded on Kickstarter is a good indication of that. "I don’t think people would have been ready for LastObject products a few years ago, but we’ve come a long way in a very short time regarding people's willingness to change," she says. "Our vision was to replace the need for cotton swabs, now it’s much bigger than that. Toilet paper is one we hope to get rid of eventually." Yeah, we’re not sure we’re ready for that one, but we appreciate her commitment.