Updated: Jun 19, 2020
Sponges have been used for thousands of years (the Ancient Greeks used them). They can absorb a lot of water and therefore are great for cleaning purposes. Unfortunately, most sponges nowadays are of synthetic origin while a few decades ago sponges where completely animal-based. Here you can read the origin of several sponge types and the more eco-friendly alternatives that are currently available.
What are sponges?
Originally a sponge is a type of animal more specifically a Porifera (meaning sponge). They lack tissue and organs like normal animals but they can have a skeletal system and produce sperm cells for reproduction. However, sponges don’t have a nervous (so they don’t feel), digestive or circulatory system. Sponges, mostly rely on constant water flow through their bodies to obtain food and oxygen and to remove their waste.
Sponge harvesting used to be not very eco-friendly but in the United States, sponges are harvested using sustainable methods that help the sponge population as a whole. Divers are trained to regularly and systematically rotate fishing areas, sustainably harvest sponges by cutting the sponge so that the base is still intact. This allows the sponge to quickly regenerate. Rotating the harvesting or fishing grounds will ensure the sponges have sufficient time for healthy and productive regrowth, without impacting the natural habitat of the sea sponge colonies that are used for harvesting.
Most sponges available in supermarkets nowadays are synthetic sponges. Some are plastic-based while there are also some plant-based versions out there.
Synthetic sponges can be made of different types of plastic like polyester or polyurethane. Polyurethane is used in plastic sponges for their abrasive side. Making it great to clean stubborn dirt. Polyester sponges are common for dishwashing and are usually soft and yellow. The big downside of these types of sponges is that they will release tiny plastic particles into your dishwater, which in the end will result in contaminating the groundwater with microplastics.
Plant-based synthetic sponges are cellulose-based. These sponges are made from wood fiber are more used for bathing and skin cleaning, and are usually tougher and more expensive than polyester sponges. Even though these types of sponges are more eco-friendly compared to polyester sponges, they have undergone intensive (not very eco-friendly) treatment to make the plant materials into a sponge.
So, what is a more eco-friendly alternative to the above-mentioned sponges?
A coconut fiber sponge is made from coconut husk fibers (usually a waste product) pressed into a square mold. Latex and cotton are used to bind it all together. It is great for scrubbing your dishes clean while also being scratch safe for your pans. As these types of sponges are great for scrubbing stubborn dirt, it is not very nice for your body.
A loofah sponge is my favorite natural sponge. In contrary to synthetic plant-based sponges, these sponges are not treated to make them into a sponge. Loofah is a type of gourd with a porous spongy interior. It looks and grows similar to cucumbers and multiple fruits can be harvested per plant each season.
This is a great video that shows how loofah sponges are grown.
Loofah sponges are surprisingly sturdy and are not only great for your dishes, but it is also great for in the shower. I love to scrub my body with my loofah sponge. As you could read here, I use an epilator to remove hair from my legs. Ingrown hairs are more likely to occur unfortunately with this type of hair removal. A loofah sponge is a great scrub that prevents this from happening. I scrub my legs twice a week with this sponge to prevent ingrown hairs and to keep them soft.
I hope you find this information useful and I hope you will make the transition to a more eco-friendly sponge.