Cotton Isn't the Problem with Cotton Buds
The skyrocketing amount of plastic trash is unquestionably a scary situation, and the calls to ban plastics straws and “cotton buds” are worth considering. However, note that in this context, "cotton bud" refers to the plastic stem, NOT the cotton swabs themselves. Also, many manufacturers have replaced the plastic stems with paper ones to minimise their environmental impact.
Water Makes It Stronger
When water molecules penetrate a fibre, they often act like a lubricant, which weakens the material. But water only makes cotton stronger, unlike viscose rayon (which loses strength) and synthetics (which are unaffected). Cotton is 99% cellulose, and hydrogen atoms in the water bond with those in the cellulose. That increases cotton's strength by about 20% -- and, since cotton can absorb more than 25X its weight in water, it's the ideal material for 'wet work'.
The Plastics Threat Is Airborne
There is a new plastic pollution threat, and this one isn't in the water: It's in the air. In the Pyrénées mountains in France, researchers found nearly 4,000 plastic particles per square foot of land. They suspect the microfibres were deposited there by wind currents, carrying them to this supposedly untouched region more than 60 miles away. It should be noted that to prevent the researchers' clothes from contaminating the samples, 'collectors were expected to wear cotton'. Natural fibres > synthetic fibres
A Biodegradable Natural Fibre
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources found that 98 percent of the microplastics are generated from land-based activities, the largest being the laundering of synthetic textiles.
Meanwhile, a rigorous study conducted by Cotton Incorporated, Australia's Cotton Research and Development Corporation and North Carolina State University showed that cotton degrades 95% more than polyester in wastewater.