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Cleaning Oceans and Ears: Meet LastSwab

Feb. 14, 2020The single-use plastics discussion continues as more and more brands are coming up with low-waste solutions for our daily routines. Take plastic bags for example. Most only get used for an average of about 12 minutes and can take anywhere from 1,000 years to never to full decompose. For an ear swab, that time of use is even shorter.



Thirty-two percent of plastics consumed worldwide wind up in the world’s oceans — that’s the equivalent to one garbage truck being emptied into the ocean per minute. And apparently, ear swabs (although thin) are no exception.

 

Flushing Ear Swabs Is Putting Them Into the Ocean

When I started my interview with Isabel Aagaard, the co-founder of LastObject, she caught me by surprise with a fun fact, and I found myself doubling back to have her repeat the statement.

“What we’ve found is that 10% of people actually flush their ear swabs down the toilet,” she said.

I had no idea flushing ear swabs down the toilet was a thing, and Isabel says it’s a big part of why they’re ending up in our water supply.

“A lot of them wind up in the ocean because they’re so small, they wind up going through the water cleaning systems. They’re tiny, and we were shocked by how many of them were winding up in the oceans.”

Meet The World’s First Reusable Ear Swab

Isabel told me her and her brother, the other founder of LastSwab, come from a long line of product designers. Her brother frequently designs new products with her husband, and they’ve been in business together for years.

When they started thinking about the next product they wanted to design, they realized that they were using a ton of single-use products.

“We realized we were using all of these things that were just getting thrown away,” says Isabel. “Worldwide, the volume of production and consumption and waste was just insane — a huge amount of what was being produced was just getting thrown away!”

So together, Isabel and her brother Nicolas founded LastObject, and started tackling the single-use plastics waste stream by inventing LastSwab.

LastSwab is a reusable ear swab made from a high-grade, insanely durable plastic blend, with a soft silicone tip. The ear swab can be used for a lifetime, washed and boiled to sanitize, and comes in a stylish little case. The idea behind the product is simple: This is the last ear swab you’ll ever buy.

 

SHOP LASTSWAB

 

They even make colorful “Beauty Swabs” that you can use for cleaning up the tiny smudges left over from when you apply mascara and or eyeliner— making it essential for your makeup bag.

“We wanted to design something that would last, that would work well, but that would also look nice enough for people to want to have around for their entire lives.”

Success, Knockoffs, and Why LastSwab Isn’t Made With Recycled Plastic

Initially, LastSwab was fully funded by a wildly successful Kickstarter. The idea went viral, and Isabel and Nicolas were thrilled! The world was switched on to the issue of plastic waste, and ready to do something about it.

But there was a pitfall to popularity.

“We were really surprised by how quickly somebody copied us,” says Isabel.

Within three days of launching their Kickstarter campaign, somebody stole their images and product design and attempted to fund their own version of the product — and they were successful.

What’s worse, the knockoff products wound up being dangerous, cheap, and disposable.

“The whole idea was that we were eliminating a waste stream,” says Isabel, “and what we heard from customers who thought they had bought their knockoffs from us was that these copies were cheaply made, falling apart — even breaking off in people’s ears!

“They’d come to us angry, not realizing they didn’t buy their products from us, with stories about having to go to the doctor to have these things removed from their ear.”

Their other challenge was materials. Unfortunately, recycled plastics didn’t hold up during their stringent testing process.

 
 

“Right now, the focus is on eliminating a waste stream. We tested a lot of materials, and this particular type of plastic held up the best. The design is unbreakable — believe me, we tried.”

Isabel says that of course, later down the line, they want to make the most sustainable product possible, and they would like to try to use more sustainable materials.

“We’ve been told that our design would be cheaper to make in a different way, and we’ve always refused because we want to make the best designed product, not the cheapest. So over time, we hope to improve the design even more by trying new materials, without compromising how well it works,” she says.

The Next Big Thing: LastTissue

I asked Isabel what was next for LastObject, and she says the focus continues to be on product development for the personal hygiene waste stream.

“We actually have five products planned, and our newest one just went live a few days ago!” she says.

LastTissue is the latest in the iteration of LastObjects designed by the family of product developers, and the Kickstarter for the design is officially live. The tagline for the product is: It’s like a Kleenex pack and a handkerchief had a baby.

 

With a silicone packaging and hygienic design, the pack dispenses up to six organic cotton tissues and holds the dirty ones behind a hygienic barrier in the same pack. Every time you blow your nose with a LastTissue, you’ll save two liters of fresh water and prevent more than 2,800 single-use tissues from cutting down trees to produce.

 

ONE LESS TISSUE

 

Making Reusable Products Less Gross

Isabel says her family recognizes that for a lot of people, reusable eco-friendly products just aren’t always that attractive, and at times, can even be a little gross. That’s why they’ve designed products like LastSwab and LastTissue to be hygienic, easy to use and clean, and not an embarrassment to own.

“We get it — people want something that looks nice,” she says. “A big part of our job is to design products that not only function well, but that people really like to own, something that doesn’t feel gross or like an inconvenience.”

 

What’s your favorite replacement for a single-use product—silicone straws? Cloth diapers? LastSwabs? Show us on Facebook or Instagram, and tag us in the post! @AvocadoMattress and @LastSwab

Destiny Hagest

By Destiny Hagest

 —  Destiny is a freelance writer with a background in sustainability and natural health. She lives in the mountains of central Montana with her husband and young son. When she's not writing or chasing her toddler, you can find her wandering the quiet wilderness in search of wild herbs and antler sheds.

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