Are Sponges Eco-Friendly? Well, It Depends…

Are Sponges Eco-Friendly? Well, It Depends…

Dennis Kamprad

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Not all sponges are created equal. There are several options available these days, some of which are not eco-friendly at all. And unfortunately, it’s the non-eco-friendly options that are more readily available at most retailers. However, you’ll see that you can find more good options out there than bad options. You just have to know what to look for.

Generally, traditional kitchen sponges containing plastics are not eco-friendly. Natural sea sponges are eco-friendly sponges. However, some synthetic options, like cellulose sponges, are sustainable, recyclable, and/ or biodegradable, making them a good eco-friendly option.

But when it comes down to it, only one sponge is 100% eco-friendly and perfectly green. That is, of course, a natural, organic, real sea sponge. However, these days, there are environmental concerns tied to this option as well. Keep reading to learn other eco-friendly options in synthetic sponges, as well as options that environmentalists should avoid.

Natural Sponges Are the Most Eco-Friendly Sponges

Sea Sponges

Yes, what you have heard is correct: real, natural sponges are living organisms from the sea. (And, in case you were wondering: they are animals, not plants.) They are some of the planet’s most simple living organisms. In fact, and they survive by feeding off the oxygen and microscopic plants they filter out from the water. They are the most eco-friendly sponge because they are part of the natural ecosystem!

When sponges are removed from the water, they eventually die. However, they retain most of their physical abilities and characteristics.

Real sea sponges have been used since the time of the Roman Empire and are still a common choice today. Scientists gather that sponges have been growing and evolving for at least 700 million years, and there are more than 5,000 different species of sponges that have been identified. Though generally, only a few specific species are harvested to be used for commercial purposes.

Sea sponges have been valued highly throughout the centuries for their many amazing qualities and, quite simply. Because they are incredibly eco-friendly. Sea sponges are:

  • Extraordinarily absorbent
  • Very durable and resistant to tearing 
  • Astonishingly soft (perfect for baby’s bath time!)
  • 100% biodegradable
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Non-toxic
  • Renewable resources
  • Harvested by methods of sustainability

Does Harvesting Natural Sea Sponges Disrupt the Environment?

If anything puts natural sponges under review as an eco-friendly choice, it is the concern of over-harvesting. However, you can overcome this issue if you watch out to only buy sustainably harvested sea sponges.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society reports the fall-out from sewage discharge, scallop dredging, and other human-inflicted problems are bigger threats to the sponge populations than over-harvesting, so they are advocating for areas of preservation and fishing regulations in places where sponges are still abundant.

These are the only real negative marks in the “environmental hazard” column. All in all, sea sponges are still the most eco-friendly sponge version there is.

Eco-Friendly Synthetic Sponges From Organic Materials

Bamboo Isn’t Just for the Pandas

Bamboo is an incredibly versatile and sustainable crop used in many products across the board – including sponges. Bamboo sponges are made from bamboo fiber, which is essentially the pulp of bamboo grass that has been spun to resemble a textile. They have great absorbency, are great for cleaning, and are safe for all surfaces. They also last much longer than other sponge options, so they won’t need to be changed that frequently. 

Being so sustainable, you will find bamboo sponges come cheap. Like the UKEENOR Natural Bamboo Sponges, providing you with 10 sponges for less than a dollar-fifty each.

The Ever-Versatile Hemp

Hemp can be turned into a fiber capable of absorbing 50% more of its weight in water (compared to cotton, which absorbs an equal weight). Like bamboo sponges, hemp sponges resemble more of a cloth pad, but they are equally as effective as any other option. There is some controversy with the textile process since it involves the use of bleach, but that is common for many textiles, so pick your eco-battle, really.

Try the rE: Hemp Scrubber for Dishes and Bath. It’s great for washing dishes, fruits, and vegetables, or you!

Loofahs: Beyond the Bathroom

Loofahs are often mistaken as a sea sponge or even a dried coral due to their similar look and other sponge-like characteristics. But these rough scrubbers are actually made from a plant called Luffa aegyptiaca, aka the sponge gourd, a member of the cucumber family native to Africa and Southeast Asia. Mature fruits are dried to unveil the inner fiber netting that is then used for cleaning. They make for a great, sustainable, natural material sponge-alternative.  

Loofahs lather soap very well and work excellent to exfoliate the skin and stimulate good blood circulation, so they are often found in one’s shower. But they are excellent for various cleaning tasks that require a good scrub and some elbow grease. Use loofas on shower tiles, sinks, and other surfaces that are difficult to clean. 

A great option is something like the ENEY Eco-Friendly Natural Kitchen Washing Up Sponge as it is unbleached, eliminating yet another common environmental concern over manufacturing procedures. 

PVA Sponge: The Best Eco-Friendly Synthetic Alternative

There is a synthetic sponge to rival the sea sponge, and that is a PVA or Polyvinyl Alcohol sponge. PVA is a synthetic material made to mimic a sea sponge’s natural structure, though you wouldn’t know that by looking at it. 

These sponges look smooth to the naked eye. But they are filled with tiny holes proportioned to make the sponge capable of absorbing up to 12 times its weight in water. And that makes them the most absorbent sponge option there is. Also, PVA sponges are biodegradable, making them a very eco-friendly option too.

While you will find regular, square-shaped options like the Whitelotous 1PC PVA Absorbent Soft Rectangle Sponge Pad for Car Washing Cleaning, this sponge is commonly used for cleaning tools such as the Kitchen + Home PVA Sponge Mop as well.

Most Cellulose Sponges Are Eco-Friendly (…but Some Are Not)

Today, most synthetic sponge alternatives are made from cellulose, which is wood pulp that has been combined with chemical softeners, sodium sulfate crystals, hemp fibers, and various dyes (for coloring). Sometimes they are mixed with materials such as cotton depending on the manufacturer; some are considered to be sustainable. They are man-made but also biodegradable. 

However, this is not true for all cellulose sponges. Some are mixed with some less than desirable–and less than recyclable–materials, and some manufacturing processes have a significant carbon output.

If you wish to use cellulose, look for brands that don’t contain those additional plastics or non-recyclable materials and utilize carbon-neutral facilities. Processing cellulose itself produces no harmful by-products and very little waste. Any scraps that are lost to trimmings are recycled into the next batch of raw material.

Synthetic Sponges That Are NOT Eco-Friendly

Run From Non-Biodegradable Plastics

Like those neon yellow pads with green scrubbers that we’re all familiar with, many traditional kitchen sponges are not made for those living an eco-friendly lifestyle. They are made from various plastics, including polyfoam and melamine, many of which are non-biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable in any way. 

Sure, these sponges are great for scrubbing stubborn scum from the tiles or your kids’ crayon-art from the walls, but they’ll be hanging out in landfills for tens of thousands of years to come. Help save the planet; use a loofah instead. 

Forget Toxic Polyurethane Foam

This is also a common synthetic that has superior cleaning abilities, but, like plastic, it cannot be recycled. Also, the manufacturing process depends on the use of certain hydrocarbons to force the foam into shape. However, science has shown these particular hydrocarbons to be detrimental to the ozone. Furthermore, the incinerating process causes polyurethane to emit irritants such as formaldehyde and other cancer-causing pollutants into the air. 

Final Thoughts

Not all sponges are eco-friendly. Natural sea sponges are the best option for those who are eco-conscious, though PVA sponges are a great eco-friendly synthetic alternative. Many synthetics are made with natural materials, and most are biodegradable, but some may have some added materials that negate this. Traditional plastic and foam sponges are not-eco-friendly by any measure and should be avoided.

Stay impactful,

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