Environmental Impact of Disposable Foam Earplugs: A Disaster Story
The majority of consumers today are aware of the damage that plastic bottles, bags, and straws do to our environment. They pollute our land and destroy our oceans and their life. However, a lot of them are still unaware of the catastrophic impact of disposable earplugs.
Managers in noisy industries supply a handful of disposable foam earplugs to employees without much thought to the impact they are going to create on the environment. Employees use them and discard them wherever they see fit.
Consequently, millions of disposable foam earplugs and their wrappers are disposed of each day and they land in landfills or rivers and waterways, which is worse. These disposable earplugs are not biodegradable and recyclable. They are small and light. Therefore, their infiltration of our waterways becomes the reason for as much devastation as is caused by plastic straws.
How many earplugs are disposed of each year?
Your hygiene requires you to discard your disposable earplugs after a single use, which is why they are also known as single-use earplugs. It means that earplugs are discarded by employees at the end of every session, which is not the same as the end of every day. In fact, on average, a worker in a noisy plant wears at least 3 sets of single-use earplugs each day. One for the first session, one after lunch, and one after the tea break. They wear more if they are to test new machinery, attend training, or engage in overtime.
According to a study, a small factory of 100 employees discards approximately 300 pairs of earplugs each day. That’s 600 earplugs per day, 3,000 earplugs per 5-day week, 12,000 per month, and 144,000 earplugs per year.
Unfortunately, this sad phenomenon occurs in almost all the noisy workplaces around the world. And these workplaces are adding more and more employees each day, increasing the number of problematic waste.
The number of total earplugs disposed of in the garbage or just left lying on the factory grounds over the past decades is simply mind-boggling. A question that is raised here is how these thoughtless and harmful practices are aligned with the environmental policies of the companies.
Are disposable earplugs effective?
Disposable earplugs are assumed to be hygienic, effective, and economically cheap. They are perceived as an all-purpose solution against noise pollution and to protect one's hearing.
All of this is nothing but a misconception. Disposable earplugs, even if employees in a noisy workplace wear them 100% of the time, are far from being effective. Yes, they are cheap and affordable, which is why most companies are using them, but they are not as effective, so your investment is kind of going down the drain.
Why exactly are they not effective?
Well, they are incredibly uncomfortable to wear and poorly adapted. They can irritate the ear canals and ears and become a cause of itch and constant distraction, which is not healthy or safe in any way. Moreover, disposable foam earplugs make it extremely difficult to communicate in a noisy environment, which should not be the case if earplugs are effective. In fact, they are worn for the sole reason of cutting out loud, harmful noises and still being able to communicate with your surroundings.
Furthermore, the effectiveness and efficiency of disposable earplugs have been questioned by researchers in various studies. The results revealed that disposable earplugs do not fit well in the ears and do not perform their job effectively.
The use of disposable earplugs is much more complex than it seems. First of all, they are not well-fit and adjustable. So, when they are improperly (not sufficiently nor optimally) inserted in the ears, it means they are not adapted to the size of an average user’s ear canals. Consequently, they are always at risk of falling from the user’s ears.
Disposable earplugs are supposed to reduce noise by 30 decibels. But since most of the time they are not properly inserted in the ears, they only provide sound reduction by 10 decibels. And since an average worker doesn’t know if their earplugs are properly inserted in the ears, chances are that they are still exposed to the noise.
Are disposable earplugs a good investment? Not at all
Disposable earplugs are preferred in organisations because of the following reasons:
- They are easily and quickly supplied across the factories.
- They come in dispensers so employees can access them anytime they want.
- Disposable earplugs supposedly fit everybody equally.
- They are very cheap, despite the implicit cost that the environment is bearing.
These points make it seem like disposable foam earplugs are a really good investment. But it’s not. All these plus points are deceptive because users wear these devices improperly. And they do it because these devices are designed improperly. They are cheap for a reason. Most workers do not even bother to wear them because of the discomfort they cause due to their improper adaptation. They see it fit to not wear them at all instead of wearing them and being constantly irritated. Can we blame them?
What is the best alternative to disposable earplugs?
The best alternative to disposable foam earplugs is custom moulded earplugs made especially for industrial use. They are not only comfortable enough to be worn by workers all day long, but they are reusable for up to 4 years. And that is only because your ear canals change over that time, otherwise, they can last for even longer than that.
They are as effective as earplugs need to be, reducing noise up to 20 decibels while still keeping you in check of your surroundings and allowing communication in noisy environments.
Moreover, there is no chance of them falling out of your ears or causing irritation. They are made specifically for industrial use, which means workers can wear them all day long without feeling anything.
Furthermore, they are easily cleaned and maintained in order to be reused in a healthy and environmentally safe way. They are cost-effective, which means you are not only saving the environment, you are saving your finances as well.