By Hanna Lima, USM Eco-Rep
Doing laundry is unavoidable. What most of us probably don’t think about is the impact doing laundry has on the environment. From the manufacturing of our detergents to the act of doing laundry ourselves, laundry creates pollution, consumes energy and wastes water. The good news is, there are several habits you can adopt to reduce the impact doing laundry has on the environment. Some of these require more effort than others but even by choosing one, you can make a large difference.
Low-effort tasks include: only doing laundry when you have enough clothes for a full load, using cold water instead of warm, cleaning the lint filter on the dryer, or using the coolest drying setting on your dryer.
High-effort tasks include: making your own laundry detergent, air drying your clothes or changing what laundry detergent you use.
By using cold water, energy consumption can be significantly reduced. According to Consumer Reports, “90 percent of the energy needed to wash clothes is used to heat up the water” (2016). Most of clothes can be washed in warm or cold water. In addition, choosing the coolest or lowest setting on the dryer also reduces the amount of energy used.
Doing laundry when you don’t have enough dirty clothes for a full load contributes to water waste as well. According to HomeWaterWorks, each load of laundry uses 14-25 gallons of water, with older machines using 40-45 gallons (2011). Doing many small loads of laundry throughout the week rather than a few regular loads can double or even triple the amount of water used.
The lint filter in dryers does more than just catch stray lint and fibers; it also allows for air circulation throughout the dryer. A dirty lint filter can prevent a dryer from working efficiently and completely drying clothes, which means you may have to run a load of laundry through the dryer more than once to fully dry everything.
Cutting out the dryer completely by air drying is also an environmentally-friendly option. The clothes that you washed can be hung up on a drying rack, a clothesline, or even just around your room to dry.
Finally, laundry detergent. Laundry detergents contain chemicals that can have a negative impact on the environment and human health partially due to a build-up of phosphorous. Phosphorus is used to soften water and prevent the buildup of dirt on clothes, but when it is deposited into the water supply, it increases algae blooms, which in turn decrease the amount of oxygen produced. This kills fish and other marine life, pollutes waterways, and damages ecosystems. Laundry detergent is simple and easy to make. There are dozens of recipes online for DIY detergent. There are even ways to make detergent “cubes” that are similar to Tide Pods and just as convenient and easy to use!
It may seem pretty overwhelming to completely change the way you do your laundry, but even the smallest change in laundry can have a positive impact on the environment and your pocketbook!