Is sponge biodegradable?

In this short report we will be discussing the topic “Is sponge biodegradable?” by highlighting some significant points on its material property, recyclability, and biodegradable alternatives for a healthy environment. 

We will also be shedding some light on the age-old method of plant based materials for making sponges and how its comeback will provide an eco-friendly solution for our environment. 

Is sponge biodegradable? 

The biodegradability of sponge depends on its material composition. As people are gaining a lot of awareness about all sorts of pollution and its effect on our environment, many are switching to a more biodegradable option. Some are still using the most eco-friendly materials which were once used by their ancestors. 

Sea sponges, plant fibers, and ripened vegetables are completely biodegradable and sustainable. Some of the harvesters of sea sponges maintain the supply and demand by allowing them to regrow in a special condition after they are harvested. 

Most of the plastic-based sponges that are made from polyethylene or polyurethane are not biodegradable whereas sponges made from naturally occurring plant fibers are biodegradable and hence eco-friendly. 

Which type of sponges are biodegradable? 

Sponges are handy material that does wondrous things all around the house. Its limitless uses from kitchen to bathroom to outdoor things is amazing. Either used to polish your shoes or scrub up stained utensils in your kitchen these sponges come in a variety of forms, textures, and thickness. 

Sponges made of plastics are definitely not biodegradable, instead it is harmful for our environment in many ways. These plastic sponges are made from polyurethane which is not only biodegradable but also use our valuable petroleum-based ingredients. 

Some of the plastic-based sponges that are used in our daily household activities include abrasive scrubs, loofah sponge scrub, make up remover etc. However, there are many eco-friendly alternatives for a plastic sponge. Most kitchen sponges are also made from cellulose. 

Though this is a plant-based material, the cellulose used in its making is partly combined with plastic material and nylon which makes the cellulose sponges non-biodegradable and thereby remain in landfill for a long time. Since the plastic part is made from our non-renewable resources these sponges have a huge carbon footprint. 

Now let’s give you some good news. There are numerous sources that can replace harmful types of sponges from our environment. If only you could choose from these products, we can make our plant a better home. 

Sponges made from cotton cloth are one among them. These are not only made from plant-based material but also is completely recyclable, biodegradable, and hence eco-friendly. Some of the cotton clothes that are successful include Swedish dish cloth, linen dish rags, and reusable cotton sponges. 

These sponges lasts longer than the convention sponges due to its enhanced material property. Even when they are worn out you can just dump it in your trash can without any worries. Plant based loofah also serves as an eco-friendly alternative to plastics. 

These are made from the ripened fruit of the cucumber family which is very fibrous and can be used in the kitchen or as bath scrubs. They also tend to be soft when wet and hence will not scratch your non-stick pans or soft materials. 

Cucumber based loofah is natural and biodegradable and if you have a fruit in your home let it dry and use it as your home-made non-toxic loofah. 

What are the issues with recycling sponges? 

Yes, sponges can be recycled but it is important to know that it depends on the materials that are used for making sponges. In this question we will be answering the recyclability of non-biodegradable sponges as with the biodegradable one you can just toss it in your trash can without worrying about its effects on the environment. 

Sponges made from cellulose also contain some number of plastics than can be recycled to make another product. The cellulose or plant-based fibers are completely recyclable, but it is the other contents that pose an issue with recyclability. Polyurethane found in some of the sponges are not recyclable and biodegradable. 

Hence, this material will pose a threat to our environment as they remain in landfill for a long time and leach toxic chemicals to our water systems. Not only that, the making of polyurethane uses petroleum-based materials and if not properly disposed of, pose a threat to the environment. 

Plastic based loofah or bath scrubs with microbeads are also a category of sponges that are not biodegradable. However, if you want to recycle the plastic, its property and quality will be lower than the original one and hence they cannot be used again to make the same product. 

Are there any harmful effects with the use of sponges? 

Sponges that are made with polyethylene or polyurethane are not biodegradable and sometimes cannot be recycled. So, these sponges sit in landfill without being acted upon by microorganisms or any other natural factors. A typical household sponges contain these types of materials and with every use they are piled up in our landfill. 

Most of the kitchen sponges are used for removing dirt from utensils such as oil, food particles, and stains. With its regular use, they tend to accumulate bacteria and dirt within the micro space of sponges. Unknowingly these sponges may pick up harmful bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus with its regular use. 

The other problem is the chemicals that are incorporated to sponges such as triclosan. Though this chemical provides antibacterial effects, their harmful effects are much more severe. Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent that is linked to skin irritation and cancers. 

Sponges that use melamine foam is another cause of concern as these are not compostable and even cause microplastic pollution.

What people were using before sponges were invented? 

People long before the invention era were mostly dependent on plant-based sources. Not only do they protect their nature but also maintain a balance between the different living beings within the ecosystems. 

Several plant bark fibers serve as a source for bathing scrub. They tend to be soft as well as have a fibrous nature that gives the effect of the present-day loofah sponge scrub. 

Some of these trees have medicinal values and imaging taking a bath with just the scrub that has antibacterial and antifungal benefits and soapy nature – you don’t even have to use soap. One of the famous bathing scrubs that is still in use in the southern part of India is obtained from the tree Acacia caesia which is a wild woody shrub and spread widely along the western ghats. 

The local name for this material is ‘Inja’. This tree has good medicinal value and even today the traditional healers of southern India prescribe it for various ailments. Not only this material has antibacterial properties but also you can get a lifetime supply of bath scrubs from a single tree. 

Just imagine a use and throw scrub with medicinal values and devoid of developing any bacteria colony which is the case with regular reuse of current sponge scrub in the market. Another most widely used abrasive sponges for cleaning tough stains is obtained from the fibers of the coconut. 

Any household that has a coconut tree knows its benefits. It is again a use and throw sponge and you don’t have to worry about its contamination. Coconut trees serve many purposes to humans. We obtain coconut oil, coir, coconut water drinks, leaves for making baskets and many more. 

Each part of the coconut tree is useful in one or another way. If you need an abrasive sponge, just take some fibrous part surrounding the coconut. They are strong enough to wipe out any stains from your pan, even the dirty stains from a cast iron pans. Some of the countries that are the top producers of coconut are Indonesia, Philippines, and India. 

Products made from these places also contribute as a revenue to these countries. However, there must be a demand for their product. Most of this abrasive sponge from coconut trees is wasted but don’t worry it is 100% biodegradable. 

Conclusion 

In this short article we have discussed the topic “Is sponge biodegradable?” and talked about different types of sponge and its material composition to give a broader aspect of sponge biodegradability. 

Through a series of questions, we have elaborated the significance of natural sponge, its biodegradability, its recyclability, and the alternative materials that are both sustainable and biodegradable. 

Frequently asked question (FAQs): Is soap biodegradable? 

Do sponges biodegrade? 

Sponges that are made of biodegradable materials such as vegetable or plant parts are biodegradable. However, the typical kitchen sponge is made from polymeric material such as polyethylene or polyurethane which are not biodegradable and stay in our environment for a longer period. 

Sea sponges used as bath sponge are animal based and hence are biodegradable and can be grown any number of times thus providing a sustainable source. Plant based materials such as cellulose, dried cucumber and plant barks are biodegradable and sustainable. 

How long does it take for sponges to decompose? 

Plastic sponges take thousands of years to completely break down whereas sponges made from naturally occurring materials are biodegradable over a year and are also compostable. Cellulose fibers and sea sponges are biodegraded easily by naturally occurring microorganisms. 

Most of the biodegradable sponges act as a home for many bacteria and harbor many microorganisms. Hence their repeated use over a period is not a good idea. 

Is sponge an eco-friendly material? 

Sea sponges are the most eco-friendly material and can decompose within a year. Some other biodegradable sponge made from plant-based material are very eco-friendly. However, sponges that contain plastic materials such as kitchen scrubs and plastic loofah contain many plastic-based materials that remain in landfill for several years and have high carbon footprint. 

Can I recycle a sponge? 

Yes, cellulose and plastic based sponges can be recycled, however, with plastic recyclability there is always a downcycling. Some of the plastic-based sponges contain polyurethane that is not biodegradable and hence remain in the earth for a long time. 

The use of such sponges causes harmful effects to our environment and with its every use, the issue of plastic pollution is increasing. Hence, the use of biodegradable sponges is the need of the hour. 

Is a sponge abrasive? 

Abrasive sponges are made with the incorporation of abrasive materials such as plastics or metals that are used for tough cleaning of grills, outdoor furniture, and cookware. The use of coir from coconut trees has similar and many benefits. 

First of all it is 100% biodegradable and decomposes like any other plant based material. They are also a good compost, and the coir allows better growth and retains water for plants. 

What is sponge made out of? 

The naturally occurring sponges are made from plants such as their fruits or stems. Bath loofah is made from the ripe fruit of the plant of the cucumber family. Some of the kitchen sponges are made from cellulose fibers but also incorporate plastic based materials such as polyurethane and polyethylene. 

Sea sponges are naturally occurring sponges and are the best source of biodegradable sponges. They are a sustainable source of biodegradable sponges as they are produced on a commercial scale by farming sea sponges under controlled conditions. 

What is the property of sponge? 

Cellulose based sponges have high liquid absorption and water retention capacity and hence most of these are used for cleaning wet surfaces. They are biodegradable based on its material composition as some cellulose based sponges have plastic materials. 

These sponges are non-reactive and have cleaning properties. 

Most of the plant based sponges also have medicinal properties to treat any skin diseases. 

References 

Rinkesh. “Are sponges recyclable?”. Conserve Energy Future. https://www.conserve-energy-future.com/are-sponges-recyclable.php# 

Osaili, T.M., Obaid, R.S., Alowais, K. et al. Microbiological quality of kitchens sponges used in university student dormitories. BMC Public Health 20, 1322 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-09452-4 

Annunciado TR, Sydenstricker TH, Amico SC. Experimental investigation of various vegetable fibers as sorbent materials for oil spills. Mar Pollut Bull. 2005 Nov;50(11):1340-6. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2005.04.043.

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