January 12, 2022

Best Sustainable Sponge Alternatives • Easy Eco Kitchen Swaps

Let’s make sustainable living easy, one step at a time, starting with the Best Sustainable Sponge Alternatives to keep your house spick & span (& eco-friendly!). I’ll also answer the question ‘Are Kitchen Sponges Sustainable’, explore whether Cellulose Sponges are Sustainable, and provide a list of How you can Shop Local for your Sustainable Sponge Alternatives.

Photo taken by Benjamin Edwards for IKEA

When I lived at home with my parents in a 5-bedroom suburban home, one of the things I always dreamed about was creating my own space in my own home, and doing it all sustainably. When I found my tiny 12-square meter apartment here in Milan, I knew my time had come.**

I tackled the project like I tackled every other aspect of my life that I’ve tried to make as sustainable as possible – one thing at a time. Doing it all at once would be too overwhelming.

Five years have passed, and while I still struggle with single-use plastic packaging for fresh food (and since the pandemic hit, the requirement for single-use masks), I’m pretty happy with my low impact.

One of the easiest changes to make? Swapping out regular old kitchen sponges for something a little more eco…

BEST SUSTAINABLE SPONGE ALTERNATIVES | EASY ECO KITCHEN SWAPS

Are Kitchen Sponges Sustainable?

The short answer is no, standard kitchen sponges are not at all sustainable. The good news? There are plenty of sustainable alternatives that you can try, some of which might even work out to be cheaper in the long run!

The Problem with The Humble Kitchen Sponge

I remember buying new sponges for the third time after moving into my tiny apartment and thinking, surely there is a better solution? These single-use products come with their own packaging and were a constant added cost, however small. Not to mention they get pretty gross, pretty quick (newsflash: your kitchen sponge probably has more germs than your toilet).

Typically, sponges are made from polyurethane, a petrol-based material, and are softened with various chemicals. They need to be changed regularly and are an important part of daily life, but their environmental impact isn’t easily ignored. These little daily-use items cannot be recycled or composted and will be occupying space in landfills long after you’re gone. Moreover, they send microplastics off into our water systems and they harbour some serious bacteria.

Are Cellulose Sponges Sustainable?

Cellulose sponges or vegetable fibre sponges are a step in the right direction, but they’re not without their problems. Like standard kitchen sponges, cellulose sponges are often soaked in chemicals to prevent bacterial growth which can pollute waterways, and they need to be disposed of and changed regularly. In fact, it’s important to remember that just because something can biodegrade doesn’t mean it will biodegrade!

Biodegradation is a complicated process that I won’t pretend to understand, but I do know that even fresh fruit & vege don’t biodegrade in landfills (seriously, if you’re curious, read the first few lines of this report! It’s hectic!). So, we definitely can’t expect cellulose sponges to do so unless they’re disposed of properly. In terms of environmental impact, cellulose sponges are only a mildly better alternative to regular plastic kitchen sponges, but they’re still not ideal.

A close up image of the Best Sustainable Sponge Alternatives, a reusable dish brush and copper sponge by Redecker, on a white background.

Redecker: Natural Brushes, Sponges and Cleaning Utensils

The good news is there are a number of options that have a much smaller impact on the environment, and they’ll keep your kitchen cleaner as well! While I looked into cellulose sponges, I preferred something longer-lasting and ordered myself a dish brush from Redecker, together with a pair of copper cloths. Before industrialisation, brushes were used for every kind of cleaning imaginable – dirty dishes, toilets, garden pots, curtains and even pesky radiators. Redecker, a family business, has been making brushes since 1935. They mix traditional brush-making with modern needs and beautiful design. These products, still handmade in Germany, are also made to last (which I can attest to, because I’ve been using them for over 4 years!!).

(And no, I’m not being paid to say this, and I don’t use affiliate links – I really do just believe in this product!).

The Best Sustainable Sponge Alternative: Dish Brushes + Copper Cloths

I chose a dish brush because I have non-stick pans that get a lot of use and I love that it’s made of all-natural materials. Even better, once you’re done with the brush, you can remove it from the handle, chuck it in the compost and replace it with a new one. Meanwhile, the copper cloth seemed perfect for harder-to-clean surfaces but ended up surprising me with just how handy it is.

I never thought I’d get so excited about cleaning, but having super shiny glasses, being able to remove tea stains from ceramics and stubborn marks from my porcelain sink (and later on, my stainless steel sink) fills me with joy (who even am I?). These cloths come in a packet of two and last about a year each, with a few machine washes in-between to keep them clean. While they’re also not perfect (the copper is sewn together with nylon), it’s much better than swapping out a disgusting artificial or cellulose sponge every week that will pollute waterways and end up in landfill!

My Redecker Habit

Since that first order, I’ve bought a bottle brush, a natural sea sponge, a dry massage brush and a face brush from Redecker. I also had their toilet brush, a radiator cleaner and more. All of them do exactly what I need them to and then some, plus they’re not at all bad to look at. The bottle brush is probably my favourite though because it serves to clean out my wine bottles so that I can take them to the ‘vino sfuso’ guy down the road, who fills those wine bottles straight back up again 😉

Sustainable Sponge Alternatives: Shop Local

As much as I’m absolutely a Redecker fan, I’m also a big believer in shopping locally. Transport costs and this weird globalised habit of buying products made thousands of miles away isn’t without its impact. The cargo shipping industry alone is responsible for more greenhouse gases than airlines. But it’s actually so easy to affect positive change in this area. Buy local!

While I can only talk to the quality of Redecker, here are some Sustainable Sponge Alternatives from different parts of the world:

Africa: Shop Zero

Southeast Asia: Yasminida

South & Central America: TBD (if you have recommendations for local stores in South and/or Central America, I’d love to link them here! Just contact me with details!)

North America: Package Free Shop

Europe: Redecker via Trouva

Australia & New Zealand: Biome Australia, Ever Eco

Do you have another Sustainable Sponge Alternative that you love and would recommend? Perhaps you know a local store you’d recommend and would love for me to add to the shop local list? Or do you have some questions about how to make eco-friendly kitchen swaps? Either way, sound off in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you 🙂

**In the time it’s taken me to actually publish this post, I’ve since moved from my tiny apartment to a larger apartment that I renovated with my ex, to a one-bedroom apartment in Milan. And I’ll soon be starting a new life of travelling without a fixed address! My Redecker dish brush & copper cloths have travelled with me along the way but I’m not sure they’ll live in my backpack in the coming months. No doubt, my new life on the road will bring its own challenges which I’ll share about as I find them!

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