Laundry is one of those rudimentary chores most of us have to do on regular basis, I personally don’t hate it (but I don’t love it either), I just know it has to be done and I do it.
As trivial as it sounds, this activity can be quite taxing on the environment and it is not only water consumption the main reason.
Today’s post is about exploring some of the key issues and ideas to make this task more sustainable.
If you check your wardrobe and start reading your clothes labels, most likely you’ll find a lot of fabrics like spandex, polyester, nylon, acrylic and so forth. Most people are not aware of the fact that the majority of clothes these days are made out of synthetic fibres, in other words man-made materials.
Many of these fabrics are made out of plastic and when they are washed they shed millions of plastic micro-fibres. According to this article from The Guardian:
“Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. It also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets”
As these fibres as really tiny (many invisible to us really), they end up in waterways like rivers, lakes and finally oceans, where they are usually mistaken by food and eaten by sea organism and fish. Considering these are toxic particles, that’s not great news for these creatures and ultimately us, because we eat the fish of course.
Demand of electricity and water
More obvious to all of us are the resources consumption, like electricity and water. We are well aware of it because we have to pay for it, but most of the time we are not thinking about the environmental impact.
Electricity (depending on the source) often means more carbon dioxide released into the environment which is causing climate change. If you don’t know the energy source in your country, please have a look at this electricityMap, it is a live visualisation of where our electricity comes from and how much CO2 was emitted to produce it. Here in Australia, the major source is coal.
And water, we all know we depend on it and even when many of us take it for granted because we have access to it, there are water issues around the world. This TED video reminds us how precious water is:
Pollution due to detergent and laundry products
Some time ago, I wrote a couple of posts about our cleaning routines and I mentioned how we are so used to buy products full of man-made chemicals which can be harmful to our planet and even our health.
This is particularly relevant to laundry detergents, which are washed down the drains and end up in our waterways causing different environmental issues. They contain surfactants, phosphates, enzymes and other compounds that are toxic to marine life.
Also, manufacturing all these detergents releases carbon dioxide, contributing again to the warming of our planet. Watch this short video to learn more:
There are few changes we can make to make this task kinder to the environment:
Use eco-friendly detergents or make your own
These days there are plenty of brands offering detergents that are less harmful to the planet, but often there are not in big supermarket’s shelves – although sometimes you can find a couple of options there.
I currently buy mine in my local bulk shop, that way I also skip the packaging, but you can easily find them in health shops too. Before buying my detergent in bulk, I used to buy a brand called Aware from an independent supermarket. These products are endorsed by PlanetArk.
If you are in USA, the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) has a directory for safer products, including detergents, click here to find out more.
You can also make your own laundry detergent, I have tried that option and it works fine, but in the past couple of years I’ve been buying in bulk to save some time (I make several of my own products and I had to set some priorities). There are many recipes online like this one, in case you want to give it a go.
Many years ago, I had a classmate from Korea. Once he told me they never washed their jeans, they spot cleaned them and hung them outside to air them. I was shocked! Perhaps we don’t have to go as far as “never”, but do we really need to wash our clothes every time we wear them?
Most of the time, we do it out of habit, but we have to start relying more on other variables: what type of activities we did during the day? Is it warm or cold? What about the smell test? Please note underwear is out of this assessment, in case you are wondering lol!!!!
Something that I do sometimes is “sun wash” my clothes outside for a couple of hours, if I want to extend the washing in heavy clothes like cardigans. It really helps, try it. You can learn more in this article.
Washing our clothes less addresses all the key issues I discussed above: less shedding of micro-fibres, less resources (water, electricity & detergent consumption), but also our clothes last longer.
This option not only saves energy, but money too. According to canstarblue:
“When it comes drying clothes, drying on a rack or the line is the preferred option as dryers are one of the more notorious energy-drainers”
I know the financial component motivates people, so I like to highlight that.
I live in Melbourne, the weather here can be quite cold/rainy in winter and I still use clothes airers in the garage (sometimes inside) or the clotheslines in sunny days. I have lived in apartments in the past, and still the approach has been the same. It is a bit more challenging with blankets or bed sheets, but with a bit of patience it works.
Check your habits
I have written about our default patterns/habits in the past, we tend to function in automatic quite a lot, especially when it comes to ordinary and boring tasks like laundry.
So, it is important to bring awareness and pay attention to small things. Please consider:
- Wash full loads only: using washing machines for a couple of garments wastes resources, as these machines still run on full water/energy as they would for a full load.
- Don’t overdo the amount of detergent: I’ve guilty of this one, we sometimes overdo the amount of detergent, perhaps thinking it will help to clean better? Let’s stick to the minimum amount required.
- Use cold water: some machines allow you to pick the temperature (mine doesn’t and it heats the water internally), select cold water as much as possible.
- Simplify laundry products: these days there are so many laundry products: colour protection, perfect whites, stain fighters, softeners and many more. Do we really need all these products? Many of them are packaged in plastic and contain palm-oil (even when you can’t see it in the label as in many countries is not mandatory). On top of that, it takes a lot of resources to manufacture/transport them. These days I only use detergent and sometimes white vinegar. You can learn more about this topic here.
- Read the labels: We often buy our clothes without considering the fabric. Start reading the materials and when possible opt for natural fibres like cotton, wool, hemp, bamboo. These days there a couple of products in the market to filter micro-fibres, they can be used when washing synthetic materials. I am hoping in the near future manufacturers start installing special filters to the washing machines to stop this from happening. I have signed a couple of petitions around this, fingers crossed.
Energy/water efficient washing machines
If you need to replace your washing machine, it is important to pay attention to the electricity and water rating. In Australia, we have the energy rating labels in every appliance, that allow us to make an informed choice.
Energy efficient appliances are usually more expensive to buy, but cheaper in the long run.
Visit the website for more information: www.energyrating.gov.au
On a final note, according to choice and other pages I came across, it seems front loaders often use a lot less water than top loaders. Something to keep in mind too!
“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”- Dr Jane Goodall
That’s it for today, I hope you have found a couple of ideas to explore, if so, please let me know in the comments below. And more importantly, share with your friends and family. These small changes matter, but we need collective action.
Thanks for reading,