Are cotton balls biodegradable? (11 properties) 

In this article, the biodegradability of cotton balls will be explored. Other covered topics will be:

  • What are cotton balls?
  • What are the properties of cotton balls?
  • What are the uses of cotton balls?
  • What is the environmental impact of cotton balls?
  • What is biodegradation?
  • Why should cotton balls be biodegraded?
  • Are cotton balls biodegradable?
  • FAQs 

Are cotton balls biodegradable?

Cotton balls are indeed biodegradable because cotton balls are made from pure cotton fibres.  Natural materials like plant-based can be degraded by the action of microbes and enzymes. 

Cotton balls come along with amazing qualities such as softness, absorbency, durability and inexpensive and because of these qualities, cotton balls are used for a variety of purposes. 

Cotton balls are mainly intended for single-time use only. Therefore, unlike cotton fabric, cotton balls can not be recycled nor can be composted. 

This is because cotton balls are contaminated after use and must be discarded. Cotton balls from hospitals must be categorised as hazardous waste.

What are cotton balls?

A cotton ball is a small ball that is made from cotton fibres and can be used for a variety of purposes. 

Cotton is usually regarded as a staple of clothing. Most consumer clothes are made from cotton. This is mainly because of the unique qualities that cotton fabric offers. These may be: 

  • Diversity
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Absorbance
  • Softness
  • Durability
  • Breathability 
  • Tendency to be dyed well

However, the usability of cotton is not only limited to apparel and clothing. There are many other applications of cotton fibres as well. This article will shed some light on the use of cotton in cotton balls. 

Cotton balls are used for a variety of everyday purposes. Examples may include dressing or removal of makeup. Owing to the widespread use of cotton balls, they are found in almost every house. 

Cotton balls are typically made from pure cotton fibre. This means that there is no room for impurity. This is mainly because of the uses that cotton balls are used for. For example, cotton balls may be used for dressing wounds. If a cotton ball is impure, there are risks associated with it. 

Cotton balls usually are in white colour. However, they also come in several other colours as well to achieve different commercial gains and purposes. 

Cotton balls are incredibly light because most of their volume is filled with empty space filled only with air. 

What are the properties & applications of cotton balls? (11 properties) 

The following are the properties of cotton balls that earn them diverse use in many areas and aspects of life: 

  • Highly absorbent 
  • Light 
  • Cost-effective
  • Single-time use only 
  • Safe
  • Pure
  • Free from contamination
  • Soft on the skin
  • Does not cause any rash or irritation
  • Usually white coloured 
  • Moisture retention 

Owing to these properties, cotton balls may be used for the following applications: 

  • Dressing of wounds
  • Removal of makeup
  • Applying toners or moisturiser 
  • Used for disinfecting spots
  • Used for cleaning sensitive parts of babies
  • Used to soothe sunburns
  • Used to apply medicines or ointments on skin or wounds
  • Used to stop blood flow
  • Used as antagonistic to effects of venipunctures 

What is the environmental impact of cotton balls?

Although cotton balls are made from pure cotton fibres, this means that there are only natural materials consumed. By this, what is meant is that cotton plants are the sources that are depended upon to make cotton balls. 

Cotton balls are not made from synthetic materials or products derived from fossil fuels that are known to cause global warming or pollution. 

However, it does not mean that there are not any harmful effects of cotton balls on the environment. 

Although cotton balls are made from plant sources, it also means that cotton balls will be degraded much more readily as compared to non-biodegradable material. However, there are impacts on every consumer product used including cotton balls. 

Cotton balls are mainly intended for single-time use only. This affects the environment negatively because it adds to waste generation and waste accumulation. 

It is claimed that the current waste generation is standing at 2 billion tons every year. This is already putting huge pressure on the environment and waste management endeavours. 

Since cotton balls are discarded right away after their use, they contribute significantly to waste generation which results in environmental anomalies such as pollution and effect on aquatic and marine species. 

Another impact of cotton balls on the environment is the use of agrochemicals in the growth and production of cotton. 

There is an increased need for cotton fabric which gets stronger day by day. To meet these demands, cotton production is sped up and facilitated by the use of various agrochemicals like fertilisers and pesticides. 

These agrochemicals, although delivering good utility, are bad for the environment. These chemicals may leach into the soil and water bodies, wherein, may cause pollution and degradation. 

The aquatic life is also affected by these agrochemicals and there is damage to the soil quality and fertility as well. 

The production of cotton is also done at the expense of various chemicals and dyes. These dyes may also pollute water bodies, affecting life and the environment. 

The effects of these dyes may also reciprocate to humans in the form of skin allergies, mutations, cardiovascular problems, developmental issues et cetera.

What is biodegradation?

Biodegradability is defined as the microbial breakdown of waste into simpler substances so that the waste may become a part of nature again. 

You may wonder why this is important. The process of breakdown of waste into simpler substances is important because it reduces waste accumulation and assimilation. 

If there is waste accumulation, there will be negative impacts of the waste on the environment and human life. 

Some factors are essential for the biodegradation process. These factors may include 

  • Microbes
  • Aeration 
  • Sunlight 
  • Temperature 
  • Pressure 
  • Other external conditions 

You may think of biodegradability as a natural dustbin because it leads to waste segregation. If there is no biodegradability, there will be negative effects reciprocated to life and the environment. 

Based on biodegradability, there is a general understanding that waste may be categorised into two classes. One is biodegradable waste and the other is a non-biodegradable waste. 

Biodegradable waste is the type of waste which may be degraded by the action of microbes. There is a general rule of thumb that products and substances made from natural sources like plants and animals are included in the list of biodegradable waste. 

Whereas, products and substances made from non-natural materials can not be broken down by the action of microbes and enzymes. These products are thus included in the category of non-biodegradable waste. 

Examples of biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Plant waste
  • Animal waste
  • Manure
  • Compost 
  • Natural fabric
  • Bioplastics 
  • Natural resins 

Examples of non-biodegradable waste may include: 

  • Synthetic polymers
  • Plastics such as PET, LDPE, HDPE, PVC et cetera
  • Synthetic fabric such as rayon or polyester
  • Synthetic chemicals like DDT or agrochemicals 
  • Nylon 
  • Dyneema

Why should cotton balls be biodegradable?

The urgency and importance of cotton balls being biodegradable will be reflected in the negative impacts and effects that are rendered by non-biodegradable waste. 

Biodegradation is an important process and it is necessary for our survival as a species. If there is no biodegradation, there will be no check on waste generation. To understand this, let us imagine an analogy. 

Consider that for some reason you are unable to dump your waste away from your house. The waste remains inside the house. Within some days, you won’t be able to segregate and contain the waste. 

In a matter of months, the waste will pollute every area of your house. In conclusion, your house will become unlivable. The same is the case for biodegradation and our earth. 

If there is no degradation of waste, there will be an inevitable decapitation of our ability to survive and thrive. There will be no place to dump the waste. The waste management systems will collapse. 

The problem is not just the accumulation of waste but the related environmental and health-related anomalies that will strike down as a by-product. It is prognosticated that there will be countless negative impacts of non-biodegradable waste. 

Some of them may be assessed as an example. There are a lot of known impacts of non-biodegradable waste which may include: 

  • Destruction of habitats 
  • Loss of life
  • Waste accumulation 
  • Ozone depletion 
  • GHG emission
  • Global warming 
  • Soil erosion
  • Deforestation 
  • Disruption of ecosystem 

It is also argued that the effects of non-biodegradable waste are not just limited to the environment but are also expanded to life and human health. Below are some of the common negative impacts of non-biodegradable waste on life and human health:

  • Cancer
  • Developmental issues
  • Hormone disruption 
  • Lung dysfunction 
  • Neuro Complications 
  • Necrosis 
  • Damage to the foetus 
  • Behavioural issues and complications

Are cotton balls biodegradable?

It can be stated that since cotton balls (100%) are obtained from plant sources, the microbes or enzymes will be able to degrade cotton effectively. 

Therefore, it can be confirmed that cotton balls are indeed biodegradable. As per the time taken for cotton balls to degrade, it is argued that it may be done in from two weeks to five months. The duration is dependent on external conditions as well. 

Cotton balls are mainly intended for single-time use only. Therefore, unlike cotton fabric, cotton balls can not be recycled nor can be composted. 

This is because cotton balls are contaminated after use and must be discarded. Cotton balls from hospitals must be categorised as hazardous waste. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that cotton balls are indeed biodegradable because cotton balls are made from pure cotton fibres. 

Cotton balls come along with amazing qualities such as softness, absorbency, durability and inexpensive and because of these qualities, cotton balls are used for a variety of purposes. 

However, cotton balls can not be recycled and composted because chances are that cotton balls will become contaminated after use and therefore, it is necessary that cotton balls must be thrown away after their use. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are cotton balls biodegradable?

Are cotton balls chemical-free?

No, cotton balls may be dyed or bleached. Other chemicals may also be used to make cotton balls safe for use. 

Can cotton balls be eaten?

It is not advised to eat cotton balls because cotton balls will contain chemicals and dyes. Further, cotton balls are never made to be eaten and no health standards are followed accordingly. 

References 

  • Tokiwa, Y., & Calabia, B. P. (2007). Biodegradability and biodegradation of polyesters. Journal of Polymers and the Environment, 15(4), 259-267.
  • Baffes, J. (2005). The “cotton problem”. The World Bank Research Observer, 20(1), 109-144.
  • Oosterhuis, D. M. (1990). Growth and development of a cotton plant. Nitrogen nutrition of cotton: Practical issues, 1-24.
  • Smith, C. W., & Cothren, J. T. (Eds.). (1999). Cotton: origin, history, technology, and production (Vol. 4). John Wiley & Sons.
  • Valeecha, Sonali. (May 29, 2021). How Long Will The Clothes You Threw Out Take To Decompose? Retrieved from: https://hercircle.in/engage/fashion/trends/how-long-will-the-clothes-you-threw-out-take-to-decompose-695.html

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