Welcome to the second week in our 52 week eco-exchange challenge. This week we’ve turned our attentions to household products. There are many possibilities for exchange here and we started with something we do very often with a toddler in the house- laundry. We previously used liquid detergent capsules as they seem to work well with our A++ eco washing machine at 30 degrees.
We carried out some research on detergents and their potential impact on the environment and found a few areas where they cause problems. The list below is by no means exhaustive but gives a flavour of the issues with most detergents;
Ok, time to science…
Production of detergents has a massive carbon footprint due to transport of many of the ingredients and other manufacturing processes. They vary from 0.6kg to 0.9kg per load, which in perspective according to Howstuffworks.com is equivalent to driving your car 1 or 2 miles for every load of washing. This doesn’t include the additional usage for running the machine.
A bit more science here, cast you mind back to GCSE science: There is a process known as hypertrophication (or eutrophication), a process in which there is enrichment of nutrients water systems such as lakes and ponds which causes plants to grow rapidly. The rapid growth of plants and algae uses up the supply of oxygen in the water leading to the death of the aquatic life. The algae also block the sunlight from getting to the bottom of the water thus causing many other photosynthesising plants to die, plants which would normally replenish the oxygen supply. The algae then also die off leaving a stagnant body or water or a bog with no life in it. Eutrophication is almost always induced by pollution with phosphate-containing detergents, fertilizers, or sewage, into an aquatic system and it is estimated that 50-70% (depending on your source) of all phosphates in the water systems come from detergent. A pretty big problem!
Not much we need to explain here- detergents usually come in plastic packaging which uses oil and a lot of water to make, doesn’t biodegrade and is generally an environmental nightmare.
With all of this in mind we sought on an alternative and found it in Soap Nuts. Incredibly they are simply nuts which grow on trees, are dried and ready to go! They help to clean clothes free from dirt and grime due to a naturally occurring chemical called saponin. They are compostable once used up and importantly contain none of those nasty phosphates we’ve been talking about. As they are simply sun dried nuts which grown on trees, their carbon footprint is significantly less than detergents.
We tried the Living Naturally soap nuts which came packaging that was mostly bidegradable but did have a plastic lid. If you buy the bulk packs they come in much more eco-friendly cloth sacks. It was £7.99 for enough nuts for 75 washes, or 108 washes if you make the washing liquid from them, which is pretty comparable to what we spent on detergent.
4-5 nuts go into each wash and can be re-used up to four times. They do certainly clean and freshen our clothes but won’t give that bright look to our whites. This is because they don’t contain poorly bio-degradable blue dyes like detergents but we can live with clean but not glowing clothes! We’ve been using them at 30 and are very happy with the results overall. I do find I need to soak some stained garments in a bit of lemon juice and water before hand but this works a treat!
The other important thing we have recognised in researching this article is that we as a society need to wash our clothes less. Sales of detergents are going up every year because we are all washing our clothes more. Not only does this wear them out thus increase waste, it also costs extra energy to do so. So think twice before you put those jeans you’ve worn only once into the wash, or that jumper that still looks and smells fresh, we certainly will.
We’re really happy with this exchange and what we have learned from it. Are you using soap nuts for your laundry? Many people use them for general household cleaning too- have you tried them for this? Do you fancy joining us in become eco-warrior washers? Are we missing something we should have mentioned? Feel free to get in touch with the comments below or on the contacts page.