I must admit I have found the elimination of plastic from the dishwashing routine one of the easiest tasks so far. Whether you wash up by hand or use a dishwasher there is a lot you can do to eliminate or at least drastically reduce your use of plastic in the process.
First I want to outline all the ways in which plastic is present in the typical washing up routine.
If you wash up by hand, the first thing you might do is don a pair of gloves. Whilst many are made from natural rubber they are not as biodegradable as manufacturers would have us believe and they almost certainly arrived in your kitchen contained in a plastic wrapper! Next you’ll go for a squirt of liquid from a plastic bottle and then start wiping and washing with your dishcloth (which I can almost guarantee will contain polyester even if the packet said ‘cotton dishloth’) and for the extra tough bits you’ll grab your little plastic green scrubby pad either on it’s own or attached to a polyester sponge. If you’re lazy or just know that it’s healthier to let the dishes air dry then you’re done. If however you like to finish the job and get everything dried up and put away as soon as possible you will at this point be reaching for the tea towel. Now depending on what sort of tea towel you go for you may already be the proud owner of fully plastic free tea towels. If however you like the towelling sort there is highly likely some polyester content and if you’ve fallen for the microfibre tea towels that seem so abundant in the likes of B&M and Poundstretcher then you need to un-fall for them fast!
If you use a dishwasher which we do for about 90% of our washing up then it will go something like this: Remove plastic wrapper from tablet and pop in compartment, top up with rinse aid from a plastic bottle and maybe special dishwasher salt from a plastic bag when needed. On top of that you may periodically use one of those stinky dishwasher cleaning bottles that you run through on an empty cycle. I avoid them like the plague as they make my eyes stream and the back of my throat feel sore even while the dishwasher is closed and doing it’s thing!
As you can see there is potential for both washing up methods to use quite a bit of plastic. Luckily there are lots of ways we can change that:
- Ditch the gloves! Seriously unless you have dermatitis you really shouldn’t need them, especially if you’re using a gentler more environmentally responsible washing up liquid. If your hands are prone to drying out then get into the habit of applying hand cream afterwards. Preferably a homemade plastic free hand cream! If you must use gloves and there are times when we all need them (blocked drains Yuk!) then at least seek out some made from fairly traded sustainable rubber and supplied in plastic free packaging. The company If You Care do some rather fetching green ones!
- Start buying washing up liquid in bulk. It will still be in a plastic container but the amount of energy and resources needed will be a lot less than say 5 smaller one litre bottles. Our last lot came in a 5 litre container that we decant into an old Ecover bottle. I see this as a compromise until I start making my own liquid soap from Soapnuts again once I’ve stocked up, something I haven’t done for ten years! Once we’re back on the Soapnuts our washing up liquid will be truly plastic free.
- Ditch the plastic scrubbers and sponges! There are alternatives made from natural materials out there but I’ve knitted some pot scrubbers from jute twine. They’re not quite as abrasive as shop bought scourers but a bit of extra elbow grease never hurt anyone. There are all manner of bottle and dish brushes made from wood and natural bristle too. I found my wooden dish brush in Tk Maxx but Google the company Redecker if you can’t find anything locally as they make some beautiful household brushes.
- Buy only 100% cotton dishcloths. For years I thought that was exactly what I was doing and then realised that every packet I picked up in the supermarket contained polyester too! Look for cloths without plastic wrapping and if you can knit or crochet even just a basic stitch then you can make your own from cotton yarn.
- Buy only 100% cotton or linen tea towels and ditch the microfibre and polyester blends. Every time you launder a cloth or item of clothing that is made of synthetic fibres you are washing plastic microfibres down the drain and ultimately into our oceans. Water treatment plants cannot filter these out as they are too tiny!
- Opt for dishwasher powder in a cardboard box. So far the only place I have been able to source such a thing is in Sainsbury’s but there are lots of recipes popping up online for homemade powder and tablets so do some research and see what you can come up with. We’re happily using Sainsbury’s powder for now.
- Again, dishwasher salt in a cardboard box from Sainsbury’s. Do not use table or cooking salt in your dishwasher as it contains anti caking agents that can really mess up your machine!
- Use white vinegar instead of rinse aid. I’ve been doing this successfully for a little while now but I’m finding it’s getting harder to find the vinegar in glass bottles. They also have plastic lids which isn’t ideal but right now there doesn’t seem to be an alternative and it’s certainly less plastic than a bottle of rinse aid.
- Instead of using bottles of ‘dishwasher cleaner’ sit a cup of vinegar in your washer and run it empty on it’s hottest cycle once a month to keep it fresh.
Below are some of the plastic free washing up items we’ve switched to. Remember you don’t have to go out and make all these switches in one go. I’ve generally replaced things with plastic free alternatives as I’ve run out rather than rush out and replace everything in one go.
Above: cotton tea towels, bulk washing up liquid, wood and natural bristle brushes, homemade cotton dishcloths and hand knitted pot scrubber made from jute twine.
Below: white vinegar in a glass bottle, dishwasher powder in cardboard box, dishwasher salt in cardboard box.
So far so good and if I can figure out a way to make my own plastic free washing up liquid then that would be great! I made some from Soapnuts about ten years ago but it would be great to experiment this time. If anyone has any recipes for washing up liquid or dishwasher detergent or knitting or crochet patterns for cloths then please feel free to share in the comments below!