Chemicals down the Drain by Terry Over
I remember a light bulb moment a few years ago when my children were younger; “Keep out of reach of children” was the warning on the laundry detergent. So, if it is not great for our children why are we washing the clothes they are going to wear in it and then sending the rinsed water down the drain to the rivers and the sea?
I remembered being challenged by my ignorance; for decades we had simply washed my clothes without consciously thinking about the ethics of the process. I set aside an hour and internet searched. It was definitely time well spent, a revelation even, and set me off on a journey of completely changing our habits with regards to the use of all synthetic chemicals in our home.
As I researched more I realised:
• When we wash an unwanted substance down our drains it doesn’t mean that it goes away; it just goes somewhere else.
• When chemicals are poured down the drain, they enter the waste water system, which usually filters into a local wastewater treatment plant. However, these chemicals persist through the water treatment process and end up discharged from the water treatment works back into rivers, seas and ground water.
• Whilst we may think these chemicals are diluted and spread throughout such a huge body of water it will not cause any harm, they will and have bioaccumulated over time as 7.7 billion people around the world pollute our watercourses every day.
• These chemicals, and the cocktail of mixed chemicals, can cause disruption to the endocrine systems in the biodiverse life in our waters including microbials and fish. This can lead to reproductive and behavioural disorders, a compromised immune system, neurological problems, and even cancer.
• As other animals consume water borne creatures that are poisoned with these chemicals, they bioaccumulate up the food chain and increase in toxicity. This can damage an entire ecosystem, and if humans eat these fish directly then there may be consequences for us as well.
I decided to check out all the ingredients written on the back of a Laundry Detergent bottle; how are they made?; where do they come from?; what harm could they have on the environment?, what harm can they have on me? Once again it was eye opening and I challenge each of you to do the same research on the ingredients of just one household cleaning product that you use. For example just internet search “What are the effects of sodium lauryl sulphate?” and cross check a few scientific and blog based websites to get a general understanding.So, we decided to try and stop putting synthetic chemicals down the drain ever! One by one we ceased to use or replaced each product we used with a natural organic or more sustainable alternative. We understood we had been enslaved for years to the advertising, marketing and synthetic aromas of our favourite brands so there needed to be an acceptance of “different” in all replacements but we persevered and I am pleased to confess that all swaps have been successful swaps. This is what we did:
We stopped using laundry powder, liquid or tablets. We stopped using fabric conditioner. We stopped using stain remover. We investigated using more eco-friendly liquids from SESI or Ecoleaf but in the end we started using Soapnuts. (Soapnuts or Soapberries are actually dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap called saponin, which is released when they come into contact with water). So the key is saponins. But soapnuts have to be transported from India and our western desire could cause supply issues there, so now we use conkers (with a few drops of pure essential oils). Yes, the glossy brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree, collected in bulk in the autumn, brown outer layer removed, then white seed dried for storage, blended in to small pieces and re-hydrated for laundry liquid when we need some. [If you want to know more about the “alchemy” of using soapnuts or conkers I will be pleased to tell you all the mistakes and successes we made on our journey of discovery.]
Chemicals down the Drain 2. Exchanged shop bought stain remover with a range of ingredients that my grandma probably used.
Kitchen1. Washing up liquid – we replaced our Fairy Liquid etc with an eco-friendly version SESI we buy from the Refill Pantry – in our own containers – in St.Albans, but could equally buy in bulk from the manufacturers stockists; not perfect but getting closer.
2. Dishwasher tablets – we replaced with bicarbonate of soda plus a couple drops of washing up liquid
Bathroom1. Hand soap –o We have replaced all liquid pump soap with an eco-friendly version from Eco Leafo And all soap bars with bars from Friendly Soap. Check out their “Our Story” page.2. Shampoo – o A bit of a mix, for some in the household have replaced shampoo in a bottle with eco-friendly shampoo bars from Friendly Soapo Whilst others have opted for a liquid shampoo from Eco Leaf
3. Hair conditioners – ditto shampoo above
4. Body wash – ditto Hand soap above
5. Shaving foam – replaced gel or spray foam with a shaving bar from Friendly Soap
6. Bath soak – Baths are a rarity in our drive for water conservation but when we do indulge gone is the aromatic coloured stuff and instead good old Epsom Salts soothes the aches and pains.
7. Bubble bath – just gone.
8. Bleach and Toilet cleaner – this was the first to go. If you want to be put off completely then researching the ingredients of bleach is pretty depressing. We have replaced it with a blend of bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar (approximate ratio 5%/95%).
9. Toothpaste – this is currently our stumbling block and we are yet to make the change so any advice would be appreciated.It is great to think we are putting less harmful stuff down our drains and I whilst we all have to decide our own views on what is and what is not acceptable to flush down our drains, I would encourage all of you to just try and replace or stop using at least one harmful product. 📷
The unexpected added bonus which I really appreciate is that gone are the scents of ammonia and unhealthy synthetic chemicals - of which I had grown accustomed to and no longer noticed - that pervaded throughout the house; they have been replaced by neutral or natural aromas and the ambience seems healthier for it. We keep trying to improve our behaviours by reading any of the interesting and helpful blogs and website but if you have any questions or suggestions then we would love to hear from you.After we had challenged ourselves on what chemicals we put down the drain next it was time to tackle all those other synthetic chemicals we clean our surfaces, air and garden with, but that story is for another day.Links:https://www.mdpi.com/journal/marinedrugs/special_issues/endocrine-disruptionhttps://theconversation.com/what-is-sodium-lauryl-sulfate-and-is-it-safe-to-use-125129https://naturallivingfamily.com/chemicals-laundry-detergent-ingredients-dangers/https://www.peacewiththewild.co.uk/what-are-soapnuts-and-how-to-use-them/https://www.simplyklaire.com/2019/01/16/switching-from-soap-nuts-to-conkers/https://moralfibres.co.uk/natural-stain-remover-tips/https://sesi.org.uk/refills/ethical-product-contentshttps://www.suma.coop/ecoleaf/https://www.friendlysoap.co.uk/https://unwrappedlife.com/blogs/blog/top-eight-reasons-to-make-the-switch-to-solid-shampoo-bars-and-conditioner-bars-toohttps://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/cleaning-supplies-household-chem
Hints and Tips: number 2
By Terry Over.
“:Saving the planet from the Laundry room – the art of sustainable clothes washing”
There are so many inter-woven consequences to the way I live my life. Just one task that I carry out each and every week could have repeated harmful effects on the environment without me realising it. I discovered that washing my clothes is one such task.
The Office of National Statistics estimates that each UK household carries out 260 laundry wash loads per year on average. Nearly all of them, some 7 billion wash loads, use a washing machine. The washing machine is an amazing labour-saving device that changed our households dramatically but there are a variety of things that need to combine for each load of successful laundry washing.
Firstly there is the electricity required to operate the washing machine, then there is the water for the clothes to wash in, the energy to heat the water, the detergent to remove the dirt and finally the draining of the waste water and its contents. Well, not quite finally because here in the UK, 58% of households have a tumble drier which needs electricity to dry that washing.
Just like modern life in general there are so many settings choices to make when loading a washing machine - temperature, fabric, spin speed, time and other options – and depending on our choice the environmental consequence can vary tremendously.
· Clean water use could be 60 litres per wash load which is 15,600 litres per year and approximately £50 worth of our household water bill. Water is a precious resource and requires energy to pump it to our homes which affect its carbon footprint.
· Electricity use on average in the UK is 0.6 kWh per wash which is 156 kWh/year and approximately £25 worth of our utility bill. The UK electricity grid is still circa 50% reliant on fossil fuel.
· Detergent is generally overused and a quick investigation of the ingredients in our laundry detergents will reveal that it is not the most environmentally friendly of products that we are releasing into our rivers and seas. Waste water treatment plants will filter some but not all synthetic chemicals and endocrine disruptors are a real issue for our marine biodiversity and probably our own health.
· Some washes can be carried out at 20 degree C whilst some manufacturers have a 90 degree C wash. The higher the temperature the more electricity is required.
· The 60 litres of waste water will cost us approximately another £50 per year and use water treatment plant energy, but of more concern is that it deposits vast quantities of plastic microfibres in our seas and rivers; plastic that will be around for ever and get consumed by sea life that will work its way up the food chain until more and more of us will be eating plastic.
But the great thing is that each of us can make a difference by just changing how we do that one chore that we currently do 260 times per year.
The best solution is simply to do less washes.
Wear clothes more times before putting them in the wash.
Hang worn clothes to simply “air” rather than put them in the washing basket
Only do full load washes.
Wash on the lowest temperature possible as heating the water is the most energy-intensive part of the process. Using 20°C instead of 40°C could reduce running costs by 62%
Use the shortest cycle. Shorter cycles use less water and less energy. The added bonus is that a short cycle causes less damage to your clothes over time so helps them last longer.
Ensure your electricity tariff is a 100% green tariff meaning all your electricity use is from a renewable energy source.
Switch from using everyday brands of laundry products to environmentally friendly detergent that contain ingredients that do not harm the environment, through their production or disposal.
We stopped using laundry powder, liquid or tablets. We stopped using fabric conditioner. We stopped using stain remover. We investigated using more eco-friendly liquids from SESI or Ecoleaf but in the end we started using Soapnuts. (Soapnuts or Soapberries are dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap called saponin, which is released when they come into contact with water). So, the key is saponins.
But soapnuts have to be transported from India and our western desire could cause supply issues there, so now we use conkers (with a few drops of pure essential oils). Yes, the glossy brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree, collected in bulk in the autumn, brown skins removed, white seed diced in to small pieces, dried for storage and re-hydrated for laundry liquid to enable low temperature washing when we need some.
In the summer we collect the grey wastewater and use it to water the garden. The fact that our water now contains hardly any harmful synthetic chemicals means it is a perfect use of 60 litres of water each wash, especially as climate change means our summers will get drier.
The hardest issue to address are the plastic microfibres that are in the wastewater, but solutions include:
Buy less synthetic fibre clothes (polyester, acrylic, nylon) and more organic fibre clothes (organic cotton, linen, wool, silk)
Install a microfibre filter to the washing machine outlet pipe
Use other forms of microfibre capture such as Coraball or Guppy Friend.
And finally, if possible, use the tumble drier less as this will save on energy use and damage to the clothes thereby reducing microfibre loss in the next wash.
When purchasing a new washing machine aim for the highest standard possible i.e. A+++ energy rating for improved efficiency, the best in-built microfibre filter possible and good water efficiency usage.
But if you are not intending to buy a new washing machine – and it is best to make our appliances last as long as possible, with repair if necessary – then I encourage you to adopt all or a selection of the above tips to address the inter woven consequence that the weekly, or quintuple weekly, wash will place on the environment. Your next washday will be even more rewarding!