Can You Recycle Foam Earplugs?

Exposure to loud noises can permanently decrease your hearing power. Not only does it cause difficulty in identifying noises and voices, but it may also lead to many other health problems, such as stress and increased BP.

These elements have created a big gap that is actually an opportunity for many- wondering how? The answer is simple- today, it is time to bring out products that can prevent hearing power without compromising on voice quality.

Nowadays, you can find different types of earplugs whose job is to prevent the ears from loud noises. Since loud noises adversely affect the eardrums, earplugs create a barrier between the two so that the users don’t have to deal with declining hearing ability.

These earplugs are also referred to as disposable foam earplugs that have been in the market for over 40 years.

However, it’s important to remember one thing- despite being cheaper options, they come with some health, cost, and environmental implications that every user has to consider at any cost (Earplugs, 2019).

What Happens After Foam Earplugs Are Disposed?

Irrespective of their one-time use principle, foam earplugs are normally non-biodegradable and contribute to a huge landfill, eventually becoming a big danger to the environment.

In commercial use, these earplugs may cause the need to plan for their proper disposal. For instance, if 100 workers in a company use foam earplugs in a year, assuming each consumes 2 pairs per day, then the total consumption would be 100,000 per year for 250 days.

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It is a big number to be added to the landfill, which may cause multiple problems for the surroundings (Snugs, 2021).

Can You Recycle Foam Earplugs?

No doubt, foam earplugs are designed to minimize the effects of noise-generating activities, like industrial procedures, shooting, etc., of which single-use foam earplugs turn out to be the widely used ones.

The reason behind this is their affordability, reliability to fit easily, and availability in multiple colors and shapes.

Now once you use them and it’s time for disposal, is it possible to recycle them for future use? The answer is simple: NO! Their material (petrochemicals including polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride) is non-recyclable, and doctors even restrict people from using recycled earplugs because of the risk of transmitting diseases and other problems.

Polyvinyl Chloride and polyurethane are responsible for making materials noise resistant and insulated. They are particularly used for residential purposes during the production of roofs, doors, windows, and walls, while for commercial purposes, they are an essential part of foam earplugs. This is why it’s impossible to recycle them; rather, you can go for burning them as fuel or down-cycle the process.

Like other plastic products, polyvinyl chloride and polyurethane have a significant amount of crude oil. Their cross-chemistry production also makes melting and reforming difficult, thereby controlling earplug recycling options.

As a result, you only have one option, i.e. shredding that could work as a raw material for making carpets.

Recycling foam earplugs haven’t stopped here- thanks to technological innovations. There are many approaches to making the most of these disposable earpieces instead of bombarding the environment.

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One such invention is the 2-step process, where (Rinkesh, 2019):

  1. Dibutyltin dilaurate converts foam earplugs into a less spongy mixture. Dibutyltin works as a catalyst in the process so that the mixture can easily pass through the provided passage.
  2. The spongy mixture is then transferred to a special machine where it works on its consistency through the twin-screw extrusions. As the consistency increases, the spongy mixture starts to convert into a thicker liquid that is used to manufacture flexible films and hard plastics.

What Are the Side Effects of Foam Earplugs?

Contrary to common belief, foam earplugs don’t possess any toxic effects on users. If ingested, it may pass through the digestive system and expel naturally.

Though, it may become toxic in case of getting into the windpipe. It may cause breathing problems, injuries, or death.

Moreover, foam earplugs are one of the biggest hazards to the environment. Its polyvinyl chloride contains harsh chemicals that have proven adverse effects on the land.

Are Foam Earplugs Damaging to the Ears?

When misused, foam earplugs can cause multiple damages, including (Rinkesh, 2019):

Ear Infection

Constant use of foam earplugs can breed bacteria due to moisture in the ears. When this breeding goes to a certain extent, it may cause ear infections with symptoms like discharge, dizziness, nausea, itching, redness, pain, etc., if not given proper attention, and it may lead to permanent hearing loss.

Temporary Hearing Damage

When earplugs push ear wax back into the ears, it causes temporary hearing loss. The purpose of ear wax is to protect internal organs from dirt and bacteria.

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It usually comes out of the ears in bits that contain debris and bacteria. If you use earplugs for a long time period, they may restrict ear wax from draining out of the ears.

Rather, it may push the wax into the ear canal, thereby giving rise to a new problem called tinnitus- a ringing sensation in the ears.

This problem can be cured by ear drops or visiting a doctor for wax removal. In fact, the use of the same infested earplugs can give rise to bacteria, followed by infections and hearing damage.

Pain

It’s always recommended to have the right size of foam earplugs to fit properly into the ear canal. If you use bigger earplugs than your ears, they may start aching.

Other Issues

Other potential risks include the inability to hear emergencies or dangers like alarms, baby crying, fire outbreaks, etc.

Wrapping Up

Science has proven noise levels to be one of the biggest reasons for hearing impairment. They may affect the quality of lifestyle and lead to multiple health problems in one way the other.

That is why foam earplugs got into existence- they aim to bring peace and comfort into the users’ lives so that they can carry out necessary activities without difficulty.

References

  • Earplugs, A. B. (2019, April 24). Counting the cost of disposable foam earplugs. Retrieved from Auritech: https://www.auritech.co.uk/blog/counting-the-cost-of-disposable-foam-ear-plugs.html
  • (2019). Can You Recycle Foam Earplugs? (And Reuse Them?). Retrieved from CONSERVE ENERGY FUTURE: https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/can-you-recycle-foam-earplugs.php
  • (2021, February 21). The Biggest Mistake in Buying Foam Earplugs for Hearing Protection. Retrieved from Snugs: https://snugs.com/snugs_in-ear_hearing_protection_vs_foam_earplugs/