Plastic seems to be an unavoidable part of our cleaning routines. Supermarket cleaning aisles are plagued with cheaply-made plastic products (we're looking at you, plastic dish sponges 👀). From disposable wipes to microfiber cloths, dishwasher pods to laundry sheets, floor mops to nylon-bristled brushes—most conventional cleaning products are made with plastic.
Is plastic safe to clean with? Is it actually more hygienic? What are the benefits of ditching plastic in your cleaning routine for good? In this blog, we’re exploring the role of plastic in the cleaning industry, how it contributes to pollution and ultimately affects our health.
Understanding the Impact of Plastic
If you've noticed the trend toward plastic-free living, then you're aware there's been a growing concern about the impact of plastic. (If this is news to you, welcome! You're in the right place 🎟️)
According to consumer research, 67% of US consumers say cutting down on plastic is a main concern at home.
Why? The build-up of plastic pollution is making a mess of things, not only for our environment but also for our health.
It’s no secret that plastic isn’t keeping our environment clean. Just ask any sea turtle, dolphin, or albatross, and they'll tell you, far from it. Each year, we add another trillion pounds of plastic to the planet, and with less than 10% being recycled, we can expect more to end up as pollution.
The ripple effects of plastic pollution are widespread. And there's one industry that pollutes when its promise is to clean. From scrub sponges to surface cleaners—the cleaning industry is creating tons of plastic waste.
Take sponges, for example—and a fact that many people may not know or miss: conventional dish and scrub sponges are plastic.
Imagine there are 128 million households in the US, and about 70% use sponges or scrubbers. (Not to mention all the restaurants, hotels, office kitchens, and other places that use sponges too.) On average, people replace their sponges once a month—some even every week. That's 90 million households throwing away at least one sponge a month.
Small things add up—especially when it comes to waste. With our current annual sponge waste in the billions, small changes add up too.
If every household switched to plant sponges (👋), billions of plastic sponges would never have the chance to pollute our water, land, and air.
But how do they even end up there? As microplastics.
Plastic Sponges and Microplastics
Often when we think of plastic waste created by the cleaning industry, we think of plastic jugs or disposable bottles filled with detergent and liquid solutions. But the real problem is too small for us to see—tiny particles known as microplastics.
Every time you use a conventional green and yellow sponge, the plastic wears down. Little by little, the sponge sheds tiny pieces of plastic that wash down the drain 😱
The same goes for nylon bristles on plastic dish brushes, microfiber dish cloths (which release microplastics when you wash them), and many other cleaning tools.
On average, a wastewater treatment facility releases more than 4 million microplastics into US waterways every day. The problem is that these pieces are so tiny we can't effectively filter for them yet. But you can still make a difference by filtering what you use at home and choosing plastic-free cleaning products that don't pollute.
Health Effects of Plastic
So what happens when plastic is in the air we breathe, water we drink, and food we eat? We're just starting to learn the effects plastic is having on our bodies. It can damage our cells (more on that later) and disrupt our endocrine systems, leading to infertility, obesity, and cancers.
Before starting the first zero waste sponge brand (✌️), Sqwisful founder Jenn was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (or PCOS)—the #1 cause of infertility in women after aging. After learning about her diagnosis and finding no cure, she began investigating the link between plastic and endocrine disorders.
Multiple studies highlight that women with PCOS have higher levels of BPA in their bodies—a chemical used to make plastics.
BPA is one of 13,000 known chemicals associated with plastics and their production that are hazardous to human health.
So why is there the perception that plastic is cleaner and better for our health?
Is Plastic Actually Cleaner?
Why is plastic seen as a hygienic material? Isn't the cleaning industry making a mess by using plastic in... well, pretty much everything?
Plastic sponge supporters argue that wood pulp and other natural sponges harbor bacteria. But if the definition of good hygiene is maintaining health and preventing disease—plastic isn't helping.
All sponges come into contact with bacteria and need cleaning. You can clean a natural sponge by throwing it in a dishwasher, boiling it in water, or microwaving it (just make sure it's a little wet). You can clean a plastic sponge the same way—but the heat from the microwave or hot water in your dishwasher or pot can release toxins in the plastic and wash microplastics down your drain.
Microplastics have not only been linked to harmful health effects, they have also been known to compromise our immune systems. When our white blood cells consume microplastics, they stop providing protection from harmful bacteria and leave us vulnerable to disease.
Plastic sponge supporters might ask, well, what about hospitals? Hospitals use plastic because it’s disposable, which can help reduce the spread of infection or disease when dealing with sick patients.
But microplastics can actually "act as a 'Trojan horse,' introducing harmful drug-resistant bacteria and their genes." Researchers are now seeing a link between microplastics and antibiotic resistance. There is a growing concern that continuing to flood the environment and our bodies with microplastics may breed super germs.
While microplastics are ubiquitous, we can still stem the flow by choosing natural alternatives that protect the health and hygiene of people and the planet.
Benefits of Switching to a Plastic-Free Cleaning Routine
Don't let plastic sponges fool you! They might seem irreplaceable, but replacing them is not only possible, it's responsible. And there are rewarding benefits to it, too.
🌿 Clean responsibly. Plastic-free cleaning creates a healthier and safer home environment and protects our planet from plastic pollution.
🌿 Demand innovation from the cleaning industry. Choosing toxic-free products over petrochemical products supports an ecosystem of green businesses doing business better.
🌿 Support a circular future. You can play a part in creating a circular future where plastic waste doesn’t exist.
Plastic-Free Products for Positive People
At Sqwishful, we’re here to help you make those first steps into plastic-free cleaning and living. We know purging plastic from your cleaning routine is hard. But we've got you—and the small swaps to help you get there.
Start detoxifying and de-plastifying your home with high-quality, long-lasting, natural plant sponges, scrub sponges, and dish brushes. And start inspiring a future without plastic waste.