Cotton wool disposal and recycling

Who invented cotton wool?

Cotton wool was first imported to the UK in the 16th century. It’s composed of a combination of yarn or linen. By 1750, the production of cotton cloths was taking place as was the import of raw cotton.

A US-born inventor named Eli Whitney, born in 1765 and died in 1825 patented the cotton gin in 1794. This was a machine that changed the way cotton was produced by removing the cotton seeds from cotton fibre. This significantly sped up the production of cotton.

What is cotton wool made from?

Cotton wool is made up of silky fibres that are taken in their raw condition from cotton plants. The fibres are composed of approximately 87-90% cellulose, 4-6% natural impurities and 5-8% water. Impurities are extracted after which the cotton is bleached using sodium hypochlorite or hydrogen peroxide. Finally, the cotton is sterilised before it’s ready for use.

cotton wool recycling

Cotton wool disposal

Most cotton wool isn’t compostable. While it is a natural fibre, cotton wool becomes contaminated quickly when it’s used. This could be with the likes of facial toner, nail polish remover, or mascara. Cotton wool should not be flushed down the toilet as it’s not recyclable. It can also expand when it’s put in water, which can cause blockages. Instead, you should place the cotton wool in your rubbish bin or general waste bin to dispose of it.

Problems with cotton wool waste

Cotton wool has become a well-used household staple for the majority of us. Cotton wool has been picked, packaged, and transported from very far away. So, when we use it, a lot of energy and time goes into breaking it down. It takes approximately 20,000 litres of water to create 1kg of cotton. This is equivalent to a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, or almost 6 months of water for the regular person. Cotton farming is also the reason why we have 24% of insecticides worldwide.

Cotton wool cleansing pads that are often used in makeup routines are incredibly versatile. However, they’re not disposable, making them wasteful and harmful to the environment.


Facts about cotton wool

• China, India, and the UK are among the largest producers of cotton. In 2017, it amounted to 120 million bales.

• Cotton seeds have dated back to around 450 BC.

• Cotton seeds are planted in the spring and harvested in Autumn.

• Cotton is a fibre that is sustainable.

• Cotton fibre is made up of a natural polymer called cellulose. The human body cannot digest cellulose, whereas horses and cattle can.

What happens after its been collected?

You can incinerate cotton woo, process it using a fertiliser or improver, use them as part of compost, and in some cases, apply them as fertiliser to land.

What are some eco-friendly alternatives to dispose of cotton?

There are a few ways that you can recycle cotton if you’re thinking of getting rid of it. However, recycled cotton material tends to be lower in quality than new cotton. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try. Try finding cotton recycling drop points in your local area, or use a service offered by the local council in which you can drop off your cotton materials and cotton wool to be processed and recycled. While cotton wool isn’t biodegradable, cotton is. So, you can compost 100% cotton fabrics by shredding them into tiny pieces and adding them to your compost pile. This can help with water retention if you’re gardening with rocky or sandy soil.

If you’re a business and are thinking of disposing of or recycling your cotton wool, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert and friendly team today. We’re more than happy to help.

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