Eco-Friendly

The Material of Your Sponge Matters More Than You Think

We’re calling in the latest from Five Two (hint: it's compostable) to explain things.

May  2, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

You likely already know that your sponge is a reservoir of all sorts of contamination, and that letting one linger for too long by the kitchen sink can do more harm than good. If you’re like many, you’ve found a solution in tossing your sponges on a regular basis—even as often as once a week. Alternately, you may be sanitizing them with visits to the microwave, and parting ways every month or two.

If you’re like most, you probably haven’t taken the time to consider the material of your sponge, because let’s be honest—it’s a sponge. But the reality is that regularly disposing of synthetic sponges can do a real number on the environment, clogging landfills, even releasing harmful chemicals. Of course, this goes for any kitchen product, but there are few we replace as frequently as that less-than-trusty sponge.

So what’s the alternative? Trading in synthetic materials (like plastics) for biodegradable or compostable ones (like plants), and purchasing products that are made to last. But we get it: it’s not always an obvious choice. And because we've been wading through it all, in our development of a brand-new Five Two product, let us try to help you differentiate between these eco-friendlier options.

To start with: If a material is biodegradable, it’s able to naturally degrade over time—but sometimes, that can be a very long time. When it comes to products for your home, the Federal Trade Commission—an organization protecting consumers from misleading “green” marketing—requires that these products be able to decompose within a year. Products that meet this criteria are usually made from natural resources that are recyclable and reusable, like hemp and organic bamboo.

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Top Comment:
“I'm baffled by the continual use of sponges for dishwashing- another triumph of marketing over reason. A pile of rags can be had for practically nothing, they do a better job of cleaning than sponges, and they can be washed and switched out daily or more, or dried out easily to stop bacterial growth while waiting to be washed. Stick to cotton and they're also easily biodegradable.”
— Smaug
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Notably, biodegradable is an umbrella term for compostable, so it’s important to note that while all compostable products are biodegradable, not all biodegradable products are compostable.

Compostable products require a specific environment (hi, compost bins) in order to become usable compost. They break down at a faster rate than biodegradable products; in order for the Federal Trade Commission to approve a compostable label, they must be able to decompose at the same rate as any other plant matter that would ultimately surround it in a compost pile (that includes your veggie scraps).

When it came time to develop Five Two's new compostable sponge cloths, the top request that came in from you, the Food52 community, was for reusable sponges. The team took that idea and stepped it up—swapping a traditional sponge for an all-natural sponge cloth. Kristina Wasserman, Director of Five Two, points out that the materials are exclusively plant-based—they’re 70% cellulose and 30% cotton—and the inks water-based; those sturdy natural fibers also allow the cloths to hold up to 16 times their weight in water, without any breakage.

Another sustainable feature? They double up as both dish sponges and surface wipes! “It’s such an easy swap for your typical sponge, which is often made of plastic and thrown out over and over again—or paper towels, which are no longer compostable once they’ve been dirtied with oil or cleaning supplies,” says Wasserman. Doubling up on use makes for extra convenience, yes, but it also cuts down on the number of cleaning products we own—and their subsequent replacements (these can be machine-washed up to 300 times!).

While the lifespan of your sponge may not be as top of mind as say, the problem of single-use plastic or food waste, it’s certainly worthwhile to be mindful the next time you go to replace it: selecting natural materials that are gentle on our planet can have a far greater impact than you might have realized.

Are you as excited to get your hands on these miracle workers as we are? Tell us below!

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    Smaug
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Emily Kochman

Written by: Emily Kochman

Food52 Community Experience Manager

2 Comments

Smaug May 4, 2020
I'm baffled by the continual use of sponges for dishwashing- another triumph of marketing over reason. A pile of rags can be had for practically nothing, they do a better job of cleaning than sponges, and they can be washed and switched out daily or more, or dried out easily to stop bacterial growth while waiting to be washed. Stick to cotton and they're also easily biodegradable.
 
AntoniaJames May 4, 2020
I agree. See also https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/04/science/sponges-bacteria-microwaving-cleaning.html
I just don't get that photo at the top of this article. There's a bench scraper sitting right there that would do a much better job of getting up 99% of the flour being wiped up with the advertised product. Why would anyone want more flour on a wet cloth (which of course instantly turns to paste) than is absolutely necessary? ;o)