How Eco-Friendly Are Laundry Detergents?
Nov 22 2020
It’s likely not a thought that crosses most of our minds when washing our clothes, but laundry detergents are far from kind on the environment. Manufactured using synthetic chemicals, the detergents do an excellent job of removing stains from our linen, towels and clothing, but they’re then washed down the drain and can contaminate rivers, lakes and other waterways.
As well as encouraging the growth of some species to the detriment of many others, they can also be outright toxic to much marine life. What’s more, they persist in our atmosphere for a long time before decomposing, meaning their harmful effects are felt by countless water-dwelling creatures. Finally, the rest of the supply chain and production process uses huge resources and contributes significant waste, further upsetting the natural balance of things.
Disrupting underwater ecosystems
Detergents are synthetically created and often contain a number of chemicals that can have damaging impacts upon freshwater and saltwater organisms. For example, elemental analysis of fine chemical manufacturing processes reveal that many laundry products contain toxic chemicals such as chlorine, formaldehyde or phthalates, all of which are dangerous if consumed by living creatures, including humans and pets.
If they can damage our bodies, imagine what they can do to river-dwelling creatures a fraction of our size. Aside from toxicity, the nitrogen and phosphate contained in some detergents can lead to an influx of nutrients in a water environment. This can cause eutrophication, whereby algal blooms grow at unnatural rates and consume all of the oxygen in the water, starving other organisms. Due to their rapid growth, they also block out sunlight, further depriving underwater flora and fauna of a necessary resource.
The plastic problem
Quite aside from the damaging effects of the ingredients of the detergents, there are also the containers in which they’re packaged to consider. Though some companies are making strides in the right direction, many detergents still arrive in plastic packs that are both non-reusable and non-recyclable, meaning there is nowhere for them to go other than into landfill or, worse still end up in our seas and oceans.
Once there, they can break down over time into even more dangerous microplastics, which persist in the environment for many years and can be mistaken by sea-dwelling creatures as food. Once inside their stomach, they do not break down, but neither do they provide nourishment, thus taking up space that is needed to store food. If eaten by bigger animals, the plastic can then slowly but inexorably infiltrate the food chain.
Fortunately, mainstream awareness of the problem is increasing. As always, consumer demand is being met by supply, as a number of companies have come forward with environmentally friendly laundry detergents. Today, there are a variety of innovative green options which use natural substances and biodegrade safely in the environment after use.
Best of all, many of these options dispense with plastic packaging altogether, instead opting for cardboard or other more sustainable solutions. While they still have a long way to go to catch up on mainstream detergent brands and are rarely seen in supermarket aisles, they can be easily purchased online.
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