Sponges: An Environmental Mess

We use them every day (or at least our moms do) in our lives and rarely do we ever stop to think if they may be having a detrimental impact on the environment.  They seem so innocent, yet they hold a very dark secret.  In this blog we will be assessing the life cycle of a kitchen sponge and the impacts it may be having on our environment.

In order to assess the environmental impacts of a sponge we must first understand how it is made.  There are three basics ingredients for manufacturing a sponge.  Those ingredients are as follows: cellulose from wood pulp, sodium sulphate, and hemp fiber. Once these ingredients have been acquired workers then throw a mixture of them into a series of machines that do anything from mixing to heating them as needed.

Once the mixture has been made into a nice firm block of sponge it is then soaked in bleach to remove any dirt that may have gotten in it and to brighten the color for consumers. All of the excess bleach from this step will be dumped and not reused for later batches.  The giant block of sponge is finally then cut into the standard sponge sizes that we know in our households today.  From there they are packaged individually in plastics and shipped to providers via automobile or plane.  Sponges typical lifespan is only around two to three weeks as well, meaning a typical household will go through at least 25 a year.

Now that I have described the process let’s get into the environmental impacts of each one of these steps, as it is easy to view them as innocent when first reading over them.  To start, one of the main ingredients, cellulose from wood pulp, has a huge impact on the environment.  In order to acquire the wood pulp to extract the cellulose from, massive amounts of deforestation is necessary.  The degree of this impact is easy to fathom once you consider the fact that pretty much every single household and restaurant in America, let alone the world, has a sponge and is only using a singular one for an average of two to three weeks before getting a new one.  The next environmental impact during the manufacturing phase is the electrical energy being used to stir and heat the mixture of ingredients.  To create this electricity large amounts of fossil fuels are burned thus causing air pollution.

Furthermore, once the sponge has been made into a block the environmental impacts do not stop there. Tons of excess bleach that was used to clean the sponge is dumped into the environment thus polluting our waterways. Next, once the block has been cut by a machine (that once again uses electrical energy) it is packaged in single use plastic which will end up in a variety of places from landfills to our oceans, none of which will be good.  From there it is shipped via automobile or plane to a provider.  Both of these methods of transportation burn fossil fuels and pollute our air.  Once a sponge has lost its utility it is trashed where it can sit in a landfill for upwards of 52,000 years before decomposing entirely. 

As one can see, sponges are not as innocent as they may seem.  Their production not only causes water contamination via dumping but also air pollution via the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity.  It is in a consumers best interest, as an inhabitant of Earth, to find a more sustainable cleaning method.

One thought on “Sponges: An Environmental Mess

  1. Not all sponges are also made from natural starting materials like cellulose or woodpulp – many in the stores are made from polymers like polyester and polyurethane. 🙁 I’ve been just using cotton washclothes in my kitchen that can be thrown in the laundry!

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