By Elizah Leigh on April 11, 2011

Believe it or not, sponges are a major source of waste and toxins in the kitchen. Clean up your act now with these eco-products.

In a highly trafficked area such as the kitchen, where food and water run amok, it’s not a question of whether spills and messes might occur… it’s really just a matter of when. From the sink and stovetop, to the counter, appliances and floor, there are so many diverse surfaces to contend with that arming yourself with a durable and absorbent sponge is absolutely key.

Except for that neon-tinted model you’re clasping tightly inside your hand; that baby has to go. I know you stocked up at your local warehouse club or friendly dollar store. You’re right, it really does look “cute”… for a sponge.

Yes, dirt-cheap household staples are especially attractive these days, but the synthetic foamed polyurethane plastic sponge that you’re using (and its nine other doppelgangers sitting underneath your sink) are all made with petroleum, bleach, assorted sulfates and a whole slew of chemicals.

Even after you throw old sponges away, the bacteria-killing triclosan that they’re impregnated with negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems. Plus, the synthetic materials that they’re composed of continue to release dioxins and formaldehyde into soil and the atmosphere long after they’ve left the factory.

Of course, you have far more planet friendly options to consider (such as making your own knitted or crocheted dish cloths), but don’t worry about the time it’s going to take to hunt down the greenest of the green. This article breaks it all down for you.

100% cellulose sponges

Pros:

  • Man-made from plant-based materials like cotton fiber and/or wood pulp, which are renewable and make Mother Nature a lot happier.
  • Manufacturing process releases fewer environmental toxins overall (compared to conventional plastic/polyester versions).
  • Fully biodegradable — can be composted successfully (just cut into small pieces to aid decomposition).

Cons:

  • Not ideal for germaphobes since fungi and bacteria love moist plant fibers (but frankly, all you have to do is microwave your sponge for at least a minute for a clean slate, or soak them in a hydrogen peroxide bath).
  • Can be pricey compared to synthetic, mainstream versions.
  • Depending on the brand, some may not seem to hold up as effectively as others.
  • Some brands may blend polyester plastic into wood pulp, so read the labels carefully!

Brands to consider

  1. Trader Joe’s Pop Up Sponges: Sold as a 12-pack for $6.99, these natural vegetable cellulose kitchen aids spring into their full fighting form (4¼-inch x 3¼-inch and 1 inch high) when hydrated.
  2. Natural Value Cellulose Sponges: This super-affordable four-pack, often priced for as little as $1 in co-ops, contains dual-surface, multi-textured sponges made with 50% post-consumer recycled materials. Even more appealing is the Walnut Scrubber Sponge with an organic walnut shell scrubber surface that tackles tough kitchen messes.
  3. Scotch-Brite Greener Clean Natural Fiber Non-Scratch Scrub Sponge: Of the 100% natural plant fibers used to make this product, 23% are derived from post-consumer paper, and the scrubbing surface contains 50% renewable agave plant.
  4. EcoSponge: Made with a highly absorbent recycled wood chip fabric called viscose, these admittedly costly sponges (roughly $7 for a two-pack of 3-inch by 4½-inch sponges) are hand/machine washable and dryable, but they still manage to hold up without looking like they’ve been around the block.
  5. Full Circle “Scoop” Sponge: With their unusual arched design, these 100% biodegradable natural cellulose sponges apparently retard bacterial growth since air can circulate more effectively to facilitate drying. You just have to decide if you think a curved sponge two-pack is worth $4.49.
  6. Twist Naked Sponge: Dye- and chemical-free (not to mention 100% cellulose), each sustainably packaged offering comes in three different sizes to fit your specific cleaning needs. These sponges do show stains rather fast, but that’s the tradeoff when you’re going au naturel. Also worth trying: the 100% plant-based Heavy Duty Agave Scrubber (just like the sisal that kitties like to sharpen their claws on) is perfect for those who like to take their frustrations out on their dirty pans, while their Euro Sponge Cloth packs just as much biodegradable potential into a flexible, soap-absorbing kitchen aid.
  7. Vileda Naturals: This textured sponge-cloth hybrid, made from 100% certified renewable wood fibers, does a great job of absorbing messes and rises to the challenge of repeated uses.
  8. Loofah-Art Scrubbers: If it’s good for the bathroom, then it should work wonders on your dirty dishes. That’s the premise behind these festively colored and shaped 100% biodegradable, nontoxic loofah sponge dish scrubbers — a slight indulgence at $4 a pop.
  9. Grow Your Own Luffa Sponge: No, that’s not a typo. Luffa plants grow an elongated gourd-like fruit that can be transformed into the exfoliating sponge that we all call a loofah merely by removing the fleshy part of its internal fiber structure and allowing it the remaining plant network to dry. Just cut it into scrub-worthy pieces and use it for all your kitchen-cleaning tasks!

Honorable mention

Hiroki Hayashi made waves with his easy-on-the-eyes red and yellow scrubbing wonders, which resemble perfect portions of fresh tomato or saffron-infused pasta. Almost everything about his Original Spaghetti Scrubs seems eco-friendly, including the recyclable plastic-free packaging and cotton fiber base of the scrubbers (enhanced with naturally abrasive recycled corncobs or peach pits). But then there’s the polyester content, which is simply just a codeword for plastic. Bummer. Scrubbing the dishes could have been a lot more fun.

About the author

Elizah Leigh is an eco-inspired wordsmith capable of captivating readers in just the right manner to facilitate subliminal greenlightenment. If it hasn’t yet happened to you, dear reader, don’t worry... it soon will. She believes that walking on the green side of life isn’t so much about random actions like recycling household materials and eschewing bottled water as it really should be about committing to long-term lifestyle changes that naturally become effortless the more frequently they are practiced — and believe it or not, if you’re looking at the world through green-colored glasses, it’s never a chore.

Working as an eco-journalist for a number of online venues, including Ecorazzi, WebEcoist, WebUrbanist and Causecast, this self-confessed eager greenie and knowledge hound has become deeply entrenched in the world of green living and makes a conscious effort at all times to practice exactly what she preaches. Elizah feels that no one is an "expert" in this field as long as they continue to keep an open mind by acquiring new eco-feathers in their cap — something that she aspires to do with each new article that she authors.

Extremely passionate about greening perspectives as well as lifestyles one carefully selected word at a time, this eco-writer feels privileged to add the 1-800-RECYCLING audience to her increasingly expanding network of green-minded readers. When she’s not tweeting her ever-lovin’ greenie heart out or adding new eco-themed articles to her portfolio, she can be found frolicking outside or shooting the breeze with her menagerie of impossibly needy geriatric felines.

As for what Elizah hopes to bring to 1-800-RECYCLING? Believe it or not, she is convinced that we are all capable of carving out individual and collective legacies in which caring enough about what we do while we walk this earth ensures that future generations enjoy the same basic privileges that we currently do. Can collections of carefully crafted environmentally themed words help facilitate this lofty plan for eco-friendly ah-ha! inspiration? Stranger things have been done to honor Mother Nature. For now, that’s her eager greenie goal, and she’s definitely sticking to it.


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