Green Living Goal #2: Cerumen! Cerumen!

Before I even begin this post let's talk about the title.   Do you even know what I'm talking about?  Can you even pronounce that word?  

No worries, I couldn't pronounce it until a few minutes ago when I had to have an online dictionary say it for me.  I won't make you consult Google or Bing or whatever search engine you prefer.  It's pronounced səˈro͞omən (feels good on the tongue doesn't it) and it is the scientific name for EARWAX.  

Maybe you already knew this, maybe you didn't.  In either case, I bet you can't wait to hear more about what I have to say about that yellowish, grayish, brownish waxy stuff that builds up in our ear canals.  

Stay with me for a minute and at least pretend you're kinda excited about ear wax because it's something we ALL experience.  According to Wikipedia, cerumen consists of skin cells and secretions from the ceruminous and sebaceous glands of the outside ear canal (EW?!).  It's mainly composed of long chain fatty acids, alcohols, squalene, and cholesterol (Who knew?!)  In humans the cells in the ear canal actually migrate eventually pushing the dead cells towards the outside.

In spite of all its weirdness, Cerumen does all sorts of cool things like protect the skin of the ear canal, assists in cleaning and lubrication, and provides protection against bacteria, fungi, insects, and water (thank goodness for these redeeming qualities).


The Impact

Ear wax itself isn't a problem, but there is the potential for ear wax to build up and get compacted which can press against the ear drum, block the outside ear canal or cause hearing loss.  

Since as long as I can remember I have been cleaning my ears daily with cotton swabs on a stick and before that I remember my parents cleaning out my ears the same way after a bath.  It became a habit and in my adult life (18-30 years old), I've used approximately 4,500 cotton swabs just from cleaning my ears 1x/day.  It's important to note that there have been days I've used more than 1 cotton swab on my ears, and I have definitely used cotton swabs for other purposes (cleaning, makeup removal, etc) so the number is probably a bit higher than my quick estimate, but it's a sufficient estimate for the purposes of this blog.
In just twelve years I have used at least 4,500 cotton swabs, and I am just ONE person.  It is only once we look at the bigger picture and take a moment to imagine all the cotton swabs piling up in our trashcans and ending up in our landfills or littering oceans that we can see the enormity of the situation.  

To get a clear idea of the waste that cotton swabs create we have to look beyond the one cotton swab we use and toss out daily as the end consumer.  We must consider the raw materials used in the spindle, absorbent end(s), and the packaging and the manufacturing process of each component of the cotton swab.  Then we must look at the end disposal of the product which effects our resources in a big way.  

My Cerumen Solution
One of my green living goals this year is to at least minimize if not completely eliminate my use of disposable cotton swabs.  While reevaluating my need for these cotton swabs, I discovered lots of eco-friendly alternatives.  I could simply rinse around my lobes with warm water  to clean away any excess wax.   not quite there yet and (sad to say) have grown accustomed to poking things into my ear for a cleaner feeling so I looked at some other options and learned that There are bamboo swabs that are biodegradable, organic cotton swabs on wooden sticks, ear rinses, and even reusable machines that suck the wax right out of your ear.  I could even  make periodic trips to my doctor for professional syringing.  Who knew there were so many ways to address ear wax?!  Certainly not me.  
After all this research on a topic I've actually come to find fascinating (please don't tell anyone), I realized that most of the options I considered didn't necessarily address my concern over the waste I was producing.  There are still raw materials being use, wasteful manufacturing processes, and disposable end products for most of the solutions I mentioned above.  I have decided that a stainless steel reusable ear wax removal tool is my best option as I am trying to eliminate waste byproduct from the manufacturing process, packaging waste, and the disposability of the products I use.   The kit I purchased came with 6 various tools meant for cleaning out excess ear wax and I expect it will last a lifetime.  I was so excited to use these nifty little ear wax removal tools packaged so conveniently in a compact case that I tried them all after my shower yesterday....all I can say is BYE BYE cotton swabs, you've been replaced.  As a bonus the reusable option will save me money and time, conserve resources, and reduce my chance of injury by cotton swab while still meeting my ear wax removal needs.  

Ear wax is a UNIVERSAL challenge, meaning everyone on the planet must deal with it and come up with a solution.  Some solutions are healthier and greener than others and that's what we're really here to talk about today.  

As for cotton swabs, I am the type of person who uses at least one per day to clean my ears (I know, you’re not supposed to use them for that…but I do).  Every morning I groan when I clean my ears after I brush my teeth or after a shower.  I use at least 365 cotton swabs a year, and although they seem small they create a lot of waste from the manufacturing process to their final disposal.  A lot  more than I ever realized goes into the manufacturing of a cotton swab...you must consider the environmental effects of the applicator stick, cotton ends, adhesive to bind the two, and the antimicrobial agent applied to the cotton ends.  Most paperboard cotton swabs are biodegradable and the ones with plastic applicators may be recyclable, however, people tend to toss them in the trash.

Identify your personal ear wax removal needs, research your options and make a healthier, greener choice in the future. You can get the stainless steel set that I did here: 
Stainless Steel Ear Wax Removal Kit


Fun Facts
The type of ear wax you produce and it's odor is partly due to genetics.  Scientists believe that they might be able to identify certain diseases through ear wax smell analysis one day!

Ear wax sometimes gets darker in color as we age.  

Approximately 34 children are injured by cotton swabs daily. 

References
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earwax
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-26527266
http://www.newsweek.com/plastic-landfill-seahorse-cotton-swab-wildlife-photography-669206
https://www.treehugger.com/family/what-waste-cotton-tip-applicators-injure-34-kids-day.html


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