Photos of tiny seahorses clutching used cotton swabs under the sea may be heartbreaking, but are they enough to galvanize people into giving up convenient products? What if there were reusable alternatives that could perform the very same tasks while reducing pollution? It can be hard to break our harmful habits, but products like the LastSwab aim to make positive change a little easier for all of us.

The LastSwab reusable q-tip.

Plastic-stemmed cotton swabs (or Q-tips, as they’re known in the US) are a major source of marine pollution, adding to the estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris that have accumulated in the world’s oceans thus far. More than one billion Q-tips are produced every single day, and thousands of them can be found along any given beach virtually anywhere in the world.

The LastSwab reusable q-tip.
The LastSwab reusable q-tip.

Swabs made with paper sticks are at least biodegradable, but they’re still single-use products. And while it may seem like such products have to be disposable for hygienic reasons, that’s not necessarily true. The LastSwab, which bills itself as “the last cotton swab you’ll ever need,” demonstrates how we could rethink such items and make them a lot more earth-friendly without sacrificing their functionality.

The LastSwab reusable q-tip.

People use Q-tips for all kinds of cosmetic and hygienic applications, from touching up eye makeup to dabbing ointment on wounds. If only they’d listen to experts when they tell us not to jam them into our ear canals, we’d probably be tossing a lot fewer of them into the trash every day. But even if you insist on ignoring this advice, you could be contributing a lot less plastic to the waste stream simply by buying the LastSwab instead. Made of medical-grade silicone, it’s durable enough to be thoroughly washed over and over again, and it even comes with its own carrying case so you’re less likely to misplace it.

The LastSwab reusable q-tip.

The LastSwab is available in two distinct styles: a pointed, smooth-textured swab for makeup applications and a grippy, textured nub for cleaning. Each style comes in an array of colors. While the expected retail price of $32 for a two-pack and $48 for a three-pack may seem a bit steep for something you normally buy for just a few bucks per 100, just think about how many disposable swabs you could avoid throwing away. Plus, it’ll definitely end up paying for itself in the long run.

“Paper, wood, and hemp cotton swabs are bad too,” say the makers of the LastSwab. “The CO2 emissions from the production and transport of these single-use cotton swabs can be avoided with LastSwab. Even the case for LastSwab is biodegradable, and the packaging it comes in is made of eco-friendly cardboard. The real game changer is that the swab is designed to last for thousands of uses — and we really hope the one you buy from us will be the LAST Swab.”

The LastSwab reusable q-tip.

To truly combat the urgent problem of pollution, the companies that produce disposable products must take responsibility for the total life cycle of the items they sell. Manufacturers have the resources and power to make big changes that could transform the concept of “trash” as we know it. But our small individual actions matter, too, and if you’re looking to reduce your own impact, choosing reusable products like the LastSwab is a great way to start. You can back the reusable Q-tip on Kickstarter and choose from a variety of rewards at a reduced price, or wait until it’s available to the public later this year.