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Uses For Hemp: From Clothing To Concrete Dark green hemp leaves

Uses For Hemp: From Clothing To Concrete

Introduction

You may have heard of hemp and thought it was another name for marijuana. I know I did. On the contrary, hemp and marijuana are different plants. Hemp has dozens of applications in many different industries, and using hemp over conventional materials is better for the environment. So let’s take a look at some of the uses for hemp to see how this one plant could help our planet.

What Is Hemp?

First of all, what is hemp and how is it related to marijuana? According to Leafly.com, “[b]oth hemp and marijuana come from the same cannabis species, but are genetically distinct and are further distinguished by use, chemical makeup, and cultivation methods.” Hemp does have some THC (what gives you a high), but it is less than 0.3%, which isn’t enough to affect humans.

Hemp and Sustainability

What makes hemp so sustainable? Hemp grows very quickly (just a few months) and can be harvested every year in perpetuity. It is a hardy, frost-tolerant plant that can grow on every continent except Antarctica.

The plants grow up to 15 feet tall and grow close together, which prevents weeds from sprouting up. This means there is no need for herbicides. They are also resistant to pests. No pesticides needed either.

While most plants steal much of the nutrients in the soil and degrade it over time, hemp returns 60-70% back to the soil after harvest and prevents erosion. Because of this, many farmers use it as a rotation crop to help maintain good soil.

The fast growth is due to the large amounts of CO2 hemp plants absorb from the air. Their efficiency actually makes hemp a carbon negative plant. Its quick growth and resistance to pests and disease allow hemp to produce more biomass than any other plant which can be put to good use.

History Of Hemp

With all of these great qualities of hemp (and we haven’t even gotten to the material qualities), why don’t we all grow it? Surprisingly, we used to. A lot. There are records of hemp being used in Asia all the way back to 8000 BC. In America, many of the founding fathers like George Washington grew hemp, and up until 1937, hemp was a major crop in America.

As a result of the movie “Reefer Madness” spreading fear of cannabis in the US, the Marijuana Tax Act passed in 1937, which regulated both cultivation and sale of cannabis, including non-psychoactive hemp.

Then the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified all cannabis forms as Schedule I drugs so hemp became illegal to grow or possess. The War on Drugs and fear of cannabis destroyed the hemp industry in the US and other countries around the globe, although some like the Soviet Union still produced large amounts (3,000 km² in 1970).

Current Politics

Commercial hemp production resumed in Canada, Germany, and the UK in the 1990s, requiring special licenses that certify the hemp grown will contain less than 0.05% THC. China is the highest producer of hemp currently, followed by France, Austria, and Chile. Hemp grown in the EU can even be certified as organic.

In the US, however, hemp production remained very restricted, although some legislation in recent years has opened the doors. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp for research and development purposes. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated that $620 million worth of hemp products were sold in the US in 2014.

In 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in the House. This act would have amended the Controlled Substances Act such that it would be legal to grow and possess industrial hemp so long as it is in accordance with state laws, but it was never brought to a vote.

Luckily, the 2018 Farm Bill created the USDA Hemp Production Program, authorized hemp production in the US, and removed hemp and hemp seeds from the DEA’s list of controlled substances. This opens up so many possibilities for this amazing plant.

Uses For Hemp

So now that you’ve learned all about hemp its history, let’s talk about its many uses. As discussed, hemp has been used for thousands of years for food, textiles, paper, and other products. With today’s technologies, we can process hemp into replacements for fossil fuels and plastics too.

Most products come from the double layer stalk. The outer layer with long rope-like fibers is used for textiles, while the inner woody layer is used for other purposes like fuel or construction materials.

Textiles And Clothing

Hemp textile production began in the Iron Age (around 1000 BC). In fact, the oldest woven fabric was made from hemp. Today China produces 70% of the world’s hemp textiles.

Textile Production

Hemp fabric comes from the outer layer of the stalk. These long strands are separated from the bark during a process called “retting“. The strands are then gathered and spun into a thread to be woven into fabric. Many phases of production can be done mechanically without the aid of chemicals, although some companies use chemical processes instead to save time and money at the expense of the environment.

Benefits Of Hemp Textiles

Hemp is the strongest natural fiber. This strength and flexibility made it the best rope-making material. It has also been used for twine, netting, boat sails, and ship rigging. But there are even more uses for hemp fibers.

Hemp clothing is very durable and retains its shape, but it is also lightweight and breathable. These great properties convinced Levi Strauss to make the first pair of jeans using hemp fabric.

The fabric resists mold, bacteria, and UV ray damage, and is not susceptible to shrinkage or pilling. It is also thermo-regulating, meaning you will be kept cool in summer but warm in winter.

It is common to blend hemp fibers with another material, usually cotton or silk. Combining with silk creates a fabric that is softer than hemp but still very strong and durable.

Hemp Versus Cotton

Compared to cotton, hemp is the clear winner. It uses half the water needed to grow the same amount of cotton and, remember, none of the herbicides and pesticides. On the same patch of land, hemp will produce 250% more fiber.

Hemp softer than cotton but will last twice as long. Unlike other fabrics that wear out with use, hemp keeps its strength but gets even softer with use. Its porous nature also gives it a better ability to retain its dyed color than cotton and other fabrics.

Paper Products

Hemp has been used to make paper for thousands of years, and it’s actually much better than paper made from trees. First of all, hemp produces two to four times as much paper as the same area of trees would. This makes hemp more economical and environmentally friendly than trees. Switching to hemp paper products will help prevent deforestation and habitat loss caused by the logging industry.

Hemp paper does not degrade or discolor like tree paper, allowing it to last for hundreds of years. Additionally, it can be recycled more times than tree paper products and requires less chemicals to process.

Nutrition

The hemp plant has many uses for human nutrition. Leaves can either be eaten as a salad or pressed into a healthy green juice. Hempseeds contain lots of proteins, minerals, and fiber. They are also high in Vitamin A, various B vitamins, potassium, phosphorus, iron, copper, and magnesium.

Hemp is actually the only plant that contains the important fatty acids and all nine of the amino acids humans cannot produce themselves. Their fatty acid content makes them a great alternative to fish oil supplements. The production of those supplements contribute to overfishing and ocean pollution.

You can eat hempseeds on their own, or they can be crushed into a flour for baking or a cooking oil. As with many types of nuts, you can make hemp milk from the seeds, but hemp can also be used to make beers, wines, and other alcoholic beverages.

Personal Products

Hemp is also good when used outside the body. Hemp oil is non-comedogenic so it doesn’t clog up pores like ingredients used in many lotions. It contains beneficial oils and is soothing to the skin, which is why it is now being added to many skin, hair, and cosmetic products. Hemp contains EFA which moisturizes and heals dry, cracked skin and reduces dandruff caused by dry scalp.

Animal Care

Humans aren’t the only ones who can take advantage of eating hemp. The proteins and other nutrients in hemp make it great for pet food and dietary supplements. Hemp can be a substitute for corn-based animal feed, which is worse for both the environment and the animal.

The inner layer of the hemp stalk can also be used in animal care. Hemp bedding is available for small pets like guinea pigs, rats, and hamsters, and hemp can substitute in for cat litter.

Biofuel

As with corn, hemp can be turned into an ethanol biofuel to replace diesel. This hemp fuel is more renewable than fossil fuels and results in less greenhouse gas emissions. Before electricity, hemp oil was used to fuel lamps and lanterns for centuries.

Hemp biofuel meets the ATSM D6751 and EN 14214 standards for biodiesel quality and is better than other plant-based fuels. Hemp produces 800 liters of fuel per hectare, which outperforms other plants. It even outperforms diesel in every category except oxidation stability, although that can be remedied by the addition of antioxidants.

If you’re curious about the production process, here’s a quick look. It’s called cellulolysis and has six stages as outlined by the Hemp Gazette:

  1. “Pre-treatment to make the cellulose content in hemp suitable for hydrolysis.
  2. Breaking down the molecules into sugars using an enzyme that converts cellulose into glucose (cellulase).
  3. Separation of sugar materials from the lignin.
  4. Fermentation of the sugar solution.
  5. Distillation to extract the ethanol.
  6. The use of molecular sieves to increase ethanol concentration.”

Bioplastics

Fossil fuels power our cars and machines, but we also use them to make plastics. And hemp can help with that too! Hemp-based bioplastics are non-toxic alternatives to plastic that are usually biodegradable. Remember though that bioplastics are not 100% natural and still contain some conventional plastic that will never fully break down.

These bioplastics are lighter and 3.5 times stronger than petroleum-based polypropylene. They also have high UV and thermal stability. Since the plants are renewable, we don’t run the risk of running out of it like we do with fossil fuels.

Hemp plastics have been used for many different items including shower curtains, DVD cases, packaging, and even car bodies. Speaking to that last point, Henry Ford himself designed a car body using a hemp bioplastic back in 1941, but it never went into mass production.

Construction Materials

The last main category of uses for hemp is construction materials. Construction is a resource-intensive industry, using “about 40% of the world’s global energy, 25% of the global water, and 40% of the global resources“. Substituting in hemp products can help reduce those figures.

Wood And Other Products

Hemp materials can replace wood in many applications. Hemp fiberboard is both stronger and lighter than wood. Hemp-based products can also replace wood for walls, shingles, and paneling. There are hemp-based paints and varnishes that are non-toxic and even pipes made from hemp.

Hempcrete

The most interesting building material using hemp is called hempcrete. The inner layer of the stalk is mixed with a lime- or clay-based binder to create a bio-composite concrete material. The result is a great insulating material that weighs seven or eight times less than concrete.

Uses For Hempcrete

Hempcrete is not normally used as a structural element, although ten story buildings and bridges using hempcrete have been built in Europe. Instead, it is commonly used as building insulation, plasters, and floor slabs. It can, however, be used in some structural and load-bearing applications.

Benefits Of Hempcrete

Using hempcrete is great for the environment. Hempcrete sequesters lots of carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. For example, an “un-rendered 30 cm thick hemp concrete wall enables a storage of 36.08 kg of CO2 per m²“. The use of lime over cement saves 80% of the released CO2, and using clay binders instead of lime will increase those savings even more.

Since hempcrete is a great insulator, the building will require less energy to maintain a given temperature. This will reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, hempcrete is easier to work with and less brittle than conventional concrete.

Here is a list of even more benefits of hempcrete from the National Hemp Association:

  • “Non-toxic
  • No off gassing
  • No solvents
  • Mold resistance
  • High vapor permeability
  • Humidity control
  • Durable
  • Sustainable
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Fire and pest resistance
  • Passive self-regulation of temperature and humidity
  • GREAT insulator”

Other Uses For Hemp

Finally, I wanted to just add a quick sections on even more uses for hemp that weren’t covered in the categories above.

  • Candles
  • Detergent
  • Ink
  • Lubricant
  • Soil contamination cleanup

That last use deserves a bit more detail. After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, industrial hemp fields planted at the site helped decontaminate the soil. The plants helped to clean areas contaminated with fly ash, sewage, and heavy metals, proving it has huge potential for fixing our environment.

Conclusion

As you can see, the uses for hemp are nearly endless. This one plant can replace many ingredients and products that are harmful to ourselves and our planet. It can clean up and add nutrients to soil, and it grows so much so quickly that it is a nearly renewable resource capable for use in dozens of applications.

I believe expanding production and use of hemp products along with algae products could turn the tide of climate change and environmental destruction. Want to learn more about what algae has to offer? Head over to my other post!

Uses For Hemp: From Clothing To Concrete Dark green hemp leaves
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10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet Cellphone screen showing the forest path in the background

10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet

Introduction

Technology makes our lives easier. Why shouldn’t it also make your new zero waste life easier too? I’ll collected a list of the 10 best sustainability apps that cover a broad range of subjects and purposes to help make going green easy and fun.

1. Ecosia

I switched over to Ecosia a few months ago during the huge fires in the Amazon. Ecosia is a search engine that plants trees using ad revenue. They post monthly financial reports that show you how much money they made and where it is being spent. For instance, in February 2020, they invested about 57% of their earnings in tree planting projects (over $1.6 million!).

They say it takes about 45 searches to plant a tree, meaning I’ve planted 20 trees! Ecosia also has a browser plugin so typing in the address bar makes an Ecosia search (download here for Chrome, Firefox, or Safari). Because it’s so easy to start using instead of Google and does so much good, it’s my favorite sustainability app!

2. Poshmark

There are many fashion resale apps out there, but I recommend Poshmark because that’s who I’ve used. Unlike ThredUp, Poshmark items are shipped directly from seller to buyer. This reduces transportation emissions by cutting out the middle man. You can also see where sellers are located to reduce emissions even more.

Having an easy access to a wealth of secondhand clothing will make transitioning your wardrobe a breeze. You can also become a seller to clean out those items you no longer wear (or never wore at all) to reduce clutter.

3. OLIO

This sustainability app is on a mission to reduce food waste by connecting neighbors and businesses to share items. They also go beyond food by allowing users to list household items like cleaning products, furniture, and more.

You can browse listings, request an item, and arrange a pickup all within the app. As a seller, posting is as easy as snapping a photo. Check out their website for more info!

4. American Farmers Markets

Want to shop local, but just don’t know where to go? American Farmers Market is the sustainability app for you! They provide a huge database of local markets so you can find one near you. Just search for your location, and they’ll provide an interactive map with pin-pointed farmers markets in the area. They also provide schedule details and a contact website (if available).

American Farmers Markets allows you to “check in” to a market and makes it easy to share with your social media to encourage others to shop locally produced goods.

5. Freecycle + Trash Nothing!

In addition to sustainability apps for secondhand shopping, check out Freecycle. Browse for just about anything, and everything is offered for free! You can use this app to declutter your home or fill it up with secondhand items instead of new ones.

Don’t see what you need? You can also post a request, asking those in your community if they can help you out. Freecycle also allows you to share listings on social media to spread the word.

6. Vegan Maps

Changing your diet is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint. But eating out and being vegan often mean limited menu options that mainly include salad. Vegan Maps provides you with an interactive map of restaurants marked with either a “vegan”, “mostly vegan”, or “vegan and raw” location pin.

Select a pin to learn more about that restaurant, including hours, phone, website, and reviews. You can also favorite locations to save them for later. Never settle for a side salad again!

7. iRecycle

Earth 911 created the iRecycle app to help users find recycling locations in their area. You search by item, and the app will provide the contact information and location of companies/towns that will take that item.

This sustainability app also links you to Earth 911’s latest articles about recycling, green tech, and green living.

8. Hoopla

Hoopla is an online library. Your local brick-and-mortar may be partnered with Hoopla to offer a huge variety of ebooks, audiobooks, movies, and more. (Other library apps are Overdrive and Libby, but I personally use Hoopla). These partnerships give you access to many titles you wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy for free.

Hoopla gives you 10 borrows per month, which never bothers me since I prefer real books to a screen, but it may be an issue for others. Ebooks and audiobooks are borrowed for three weeks. You can borrow music for one week, and movies/videos for just 3 days. You can also use your computer to borrow items from their website.

9. AllTrails

Would it really be green living if we stayed inside all day instead of enjoying the outdoors? My husband and I have been using AllTrails for a while now to research new hikes when we go on vacations. They have running and biking trails too.

AllTrails lets you sort by difficulty level, length, or other criteria like dog-friendly. Many trails have frequent reviews which are very helpful for assessing a trail’s current condition (icy, washed out, how well marked, etc.). AllTrails even provides GPS directions to trailheads.

You can save trails to different lists, track your progress while on the trail, and share your adventures with social media. I included AllTrails in my top sustainability apps because not only does help you enjoy Mother Nature, but it also makes sure the only energy you’re burning is calories.

10. JouleBug

So you’ve downloaded some sustainability apps, but you still need some motivation to stick with zero waste? JouleBug helps you record all your daily green actions by “buzzing”. Then it puts them into perspective by telling you how much carbon, waste, or water those actions have saved.

I tried out ecoCRED, which is a similar sustainability app specifically for motivation, but JouleBug offers a way bigger list of actions, runs much smoother, and offers a social aspect. You can follow friends, like or comment on other people’s “buzzes”, and join local challenges and events to boost motivation even more!

Conclusion

I hope you download some of these sustainability apps to help you make eco-friendly living an easy, everyday part of your life. What other apps do you use to help you reduce your footprint? Leave a comment below!

10 Best Sustainability Apps For Saving The Planet Cellphone screen showing the forest path in the background
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How Algae Can Save The World Algae covered rocks along the seashore in the late afternoon sun

How Algae Can Save The World

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no additional cost to you. Read more on my Disclaimer page.

Introduction

Our planet is facing an uncertain future right now. Climate change, growing pollution, and even food and water to keep us all alive. Could there be one solution for all of those problems? Let’s take a look at how algae can save the world.

What is Algae?

“Algae” is a term that applies to many different organisms ranging from unicellular planktons to giant kelp growing meters and meters tall. They produce oxygen through photosynthesis, though some species are heterotrophic as well. Unlike plants, they lack true roots, stems, or leaves, but they produce half of the world’s oxygen.

Algae can live in freshwater or saltwater, and even on land! For example, lichens that grow on trees and rocks are a symbiotic relationship of algae and fungi. “They can also endure a range of temperatures, oxygen or carbon dioxide concentrations, acidity and turbidity“. Algae multiplies quickly and can “double their numbers every few hours“. So how can algae save the world?

As a crop, algae is very easy to grow due to its hardiness (even in the desert!). Algae can utilize land unsuitable for traditional crops as well as saltwater, brackish water, and even wastewater to grow. This is super important because 70% of the world’s freshwater goes toward food production (crops and animals).

Algae are packed with nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and plenty of protein. In the same amount of space, algae can produce seven times the amount of protein as soybeans. While they contain so many nutrients, they can also filter out toxins, pathogens, and heavy metals from water by either storing or using them.

Climate Change

Climate change is a broad subject, but algae can help in a variety of ways.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is a greenhouse gas that warms up the planet. Like our forests, algae sequester carbon through photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is captured and transformed into oxygen and sugar using sunlight.

Various companies like Hypergiant Industries is building prototype bioreactors that could sequester many times more carbon than trees in a given amount of space. For example, Hypergiant’s Eos Bioreactor is only 63 cubic feet in size but sequesters as much carbon as 400 trees.

The Cloud Collective designed an algal bioreactor which was installed over a Switzerland highway to capture CO2 emissions from cars. The reactor is composed of algae-filled tubed that run along an overpass and suck in car emissions from below.

Algal bioreactors could also capture carbon before it enters our atmosphere by installing them in factories. When compared to other crops used for biofuels, algae outperforms them all in the amount of carbon they take in.

Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto are two architects from EcoLogicStudio who designed algae-filled curtains that help pull carbon out of our air. The curtains hold algae in tubes while the rest of the curtain is a clear plastic. Air flows in from the bottom, and the algae can then pull out the carbon dioxide and transform it into oxygen. Although not the prettiest site, the curtains are an innovative solution to reduce greenhouse gases. The pair are working on a more aesthetically pleasing design.

Ocean Sustainability

Algae are imperative to healthy oceans. Most animals in the ocean rely on algae either directly or indirectly as a food source. As autotrophs, plankton algae are at the bottom of the food chain. If their numbers drop, it can spell disaster all the way up the line to apex predators. Algae convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, which even fish need to breathe.

Like the lichen I mentioned earlier, algae participates in various symbiotic relationships with other organisms. One example is the mutually beneficial relationship between sea sponges and green algae. The algae lives on the surface of the sponge that protects it from predators. Here, it produces both oxygen and sugar the sea sponge feeds on.

Another relationship is that with coral reefs. By producing oxygen and sugars, algae speed up coral growth. With coral reefs deteriorating and bleaching around the globe, we need algae to save these havens of ocean biodiversity.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels like petroleum are non-renewable resources, and drilling for them causes harm to the environment. Oil spills are extremely damaging to ecosystems and are hard to clean up. However, algal biofuels could be a replacement for traditional fossil fuels.

Algae produce energy-rich oils called lipids which can be extracted to produce the biofuel. Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology call the process “doubly green” since algae consume pathogens in the water and filter it while growing.

Algae can produce between 2000 and 5000 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. They can produce between 10 and 100 times more biofuel than other crops. The US is leading the way with algal biofuels with over 100 companies and the government investing billions.

Pollution

While they can’t pick up litter off the street, algae can save the world by cleaning its water. It can also replace some of the litter through the production of compostable algae packaging.

Wastewater

As discussed, algae can filter out lots of unwanted substances from wastewater. They can remove 100% of ammonia, 88% of nitrate, and 99% of phosphate from wastewater. They also remove heavy metals, pesticides, organic and inorganic toxins, and pathogens. Algae can even remove radioactive materials from wastewater!

Microalgae have been used in biological wastewater treatment for over half a century and the process is widely recognized to be as effective as conventional systems. The process can take a few hours to a few days depending on the amount of nutrients to be removed. After treatment, the algae can be used for biofuel.

Sustainable Packaging

I’ve actually written an entire post about how natural substances can be used as sustainable packaging alternatives. Companies like Skipping Rocks Lab and Evo & Co. use seaweed to create compostable, edible, and customizable packaging solutions.

Skipping Rocks Lab designed a material called Notpla, which is used in the Oohos handed out at the London Marathon in 2019. The two companies have also designed sachets, food wraps, and takeaway tray liners using seaweed-based materials.

Learn more about these solutions by heading over to my Sustainable Packaging Alternatives post!

Algae for Humans

In addition to all these fancy technologies using algae, we can also do the simple thing and just eat it.

Food

Records have shown humans have been eating algae since 500 BC, and today, 42 countries commercially cultivate macroalgae.

As discussed, algae is super-nutrient-rich, containing various vitamins, minerals, and good fats as well as a heap of protein. Algae is already used commonly in nutritional supplements. A 1978 study showed how algae improved the health of a malnourished infant.

One company hoping algae will be the next big food trend is iWi. The company uses long saltwater ponds to grow algae in the deserts of New Mexico. The company currently sells algae as nutritional supplements on Amazon, but they are also developing snacks and protein powders made from algae. They say the algae will not have much of a taste, not will the protein powder be green, so it can seamlessly be added to various products.

The problems with human consumption of algae lies with food safety regulations, as some algae contains toxins. There are many species approved for market, such as spirulina, and companies are using these species to pastas, breads, and even yogurts and ice cream.

In addition to benefits of eating algae ourselves, there are significant benefits to feeding it to livestock. The amount of land and freshwater resources used to produce animal products will significantly decrease. Algae is also cheaper than other forms of feed. Incorporating algae into livestock feed has been shown to improve the immune system and reproductive performance of animals, increased their body weight, and reduced cholesterol.

Finally, algae can replace artificial food dyes by acting as a food colorant. Algae can be used for greens, blues, and even orange (due to the carotenoids some species contain).

Water

The last way algae can save the world is by conserving our water supply. The planet only has so much freshwater to sustain us all, and many people . By using algae on a large scale and reducing the use of other crops, we free up tons of freshwater. Due to its filtering abilities, algae can clean our water so it’s safer. Their role in purifying wastewater could also extend into our drinking water if recycled water for drinking is implemented in more locations.

Conclusion

With all of these uses and benefits, it’s clear how algae can save the world. We can clean our air and water, restore the health of our oceans, feed ourselves, and use it to replace fossil fuels. I’m positive algae will lead us into a greener future. What do you think?

Want to read more about algae? Check out these sources:

How Algae Can Save The World Algae covered rocks along the seashore in the late afternoon sun
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Dishwashing v. Handwashing A load of newly cleaned dishes sitting in an open dishwasher

Dishwashing v. Handwashing: Can I Beat The Dishwasher?

Introduction

Contrary to popular belief, many studies have proven that using a dishwasher is better than handwashing dishes. These studies cite comparisons of water and energy usage and the emissions from that usage to show how dishwashers are more efficient. I’m here to challenge the results of these dishwashing v. handwashing tests.

These studies fail to look at the broader picture of dishwashing v. handwashing. There are many more factors that should be considered: manufacturing and transportation emissions, end of life disposal, environmental effects, and even just practicality of always being able to fully fill a dishwasher.

In this post, I will not only take a closer look at these studies and examine what factors they conveniently exclude, but I will also perform my own experiment to see how efficiently I can wash a dishwasher’s worth of dishes by hand.

Study Says The Dishwasher Is Better

The average dishwasher uses 6 gallons of water for its entire cycle. Energy Star-rated dishwashers use 4 gallons. The water is heated by an electrical heating element in the dishwasher to around 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

In contrast, a normal kitchen faucet pours out 2 gallons per minute when fully open, and household water heaters are usually set to a max of 120°F (anything above this can scald/burn skin). So one would think there’s no way to wash all those dishes in just 2 to 3 minutes with the same effectiveness as an hour-long (or longer) cycle of the dishwasher.

Most articles online on the dishwashing v. handwashing debate are based on one of two things: water usage or monetary cost. Which is cheaper? Which is faster? Or which uses less water? There seems to be a shortage, however, of studies on which is more environmentally friendly (beyond water usage).

Bonn University Study

The same 2009 Bonn University study pops up frequently as “proof” that dishwashing is better than handwashing in multiple categories. It has been the only study I can find that actually performed an experiment to compare the two methods.

In this experiment, people from across Europe were left in a kitchen setup to clean 12 place settings of dishes in whatever manner they usually wash at home. The water use, energy use, soap use, time, and even “cleaning index” were all compared across nationality and then aggregated and compared to the average dishwasher. The results show the dishwasher beating out humans in every category.

The results of this experiment concluded the following averages for handwashing 12 place settings:

  • Water usage: 103 liters (27.2 gallons)
  • Energy usage: 2.5 kWh
  • Soap usage: 35 g (1.2 oz)
  • Time: 79 minutes

Here’s how those numbers compared to a modern dishwasher:

PHOTO

The cleaning index referenced in the table above is a measure of how clean the dishes were after washing. A higher number means a cleaner dish, so this experiment concluded dishwashers using a normal cycle did about the same as a person, and an intensive cycle resulted in a cleaner dish.

So it seems the dishwasher is both more water efficient (1/6 of handwashing) and energy efficient (2/5 of handwashing). It also is faster in terms of how long the person spends on the dishes (only loading and unloading). But is this study telling the whole truth about the water and energy usage?

Research Shows The Study Ignored Important Factors

What’s missing from this comparison? The study never looks at carbon or dioxin emissions caused by production, transportation emissions from factory to store to home, and the effects of disposal of the dishwasher versus a sink in its analysis.

Carbon Emissions

Production, Transportation, and Energy Use

To take a closer look at what’s missing in the dishwashing v. handwashing debate, let’s look at emissions. An assessment in Appliance Magazine from 2003 states it takes 4,300 MJ to manufacture a dishwasher. This is 1,200 kWh, which converts to 1,608 lbs of CO2.

In addition to production emissions, it takes about 18 MJ/cycle to run a dishwasher. According to Treehugger.com, a household dishwasher is used 215 times per year on average. With a 15 year lifespan, the average dishwasher will emit over 21,600 pounds of CO2.

Emissions from transportation are hard to calculate due to the many unknown factors: distances traveled by component materials as well as the final product, transportation modes, weight of load on each trip, fuel efficiency, etc.

According to my research, it is highly likely for a US dishwasher to be produced domestically in the US using a majority of US-made components. This is pleasantly surprising in light of the rise of the global economy pushing manufacturing overseas, but there are still carbon emissions involved.

Since all houses have a sink no matter what, I decided its production was negligible (versus a dishwasher which is an optional appliance that some homes do not have). We can still look at the carbon emissions from the water.

Water and Heating Water

I couldn’t find something specific to the US, but I doubt there’s much difference. This article states 0.59 grams of CO2 are required to produce one liter of tap water in the UK. This converts to 0.005 lbs of CO2/gallon.

This worksheet on the cost of heating water can be used to calculate that a gas tank heater at only 59% efficiency requires 847 BTUs to heat a gallon of water from 60°F to 120°F. This converts to 0.25 kWh/heated gallon or 0.34 lbs of CO2/heated gallon.

This worksheet does conflict, however, with Treehugger’s calculations for heating from 60°F to 120°F that show “heating the water with gas for each 2-gallon load emits about .17 pounds of carbon dioxide.” They use a higher efficiency and higher kWh to CO2 conversion, but that would result in 0.38 pounds per gallon using the worksheet so I’m not too sure who to believe. The Treehugger article also says heating with a tankless water heater results in 0.07 lbs of CO2/gallon.

Total Emissions

The Guardian put out an article listing the carbon footprints of various washing methods:

  • Almost zero CO2e: by hand in cold water
  • 540g CO2e: by hand, using water sparingly and not too hot
  • 770g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 55°C (131°F)
  • 990g CO2e: in a dishwasher at 65°C (149°F)
  • 8000g CO2e: by hand, with extravagant use of water

In this case, handwashing is the greener choice so long as you are careful about how you wash (not leaving the water running, mindful of temperature, etc.). The Guardian does make a case that water must be very hot or else bacteria persists. They provide a statistic but have no source. I searched around and this statistic popped up on many other sites, but not one linked a source so I have no idea where it came from.

Note: CO2e is a carbon dioxide equivalent which converts the effects of other greenhouse gases like methane into the equivalent amount of CO2.

PVC

Dishwashers are made using several types of materials, the main component being a type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Plastics are made from oil, a non-renewable resource with harmful extraction processes.

Due to the chlorine used to create PVC, PVC releases harmful chemicals called dioxins into the air during production and incineration at end of life. Dioxins disrupt biological processes (hormones, development, immune and endocrine systems) and are carcinogens.

There have been large reductions in dioxin emissions over the past few decades due to stricter standards in developed countries, but dioxins are still a large problem in other countries like China. A 2007 study in China showed people who lived near e-waste recycling facilities had much higher concentrations of dioxins in their bodies than other people.

Dioxins released into the environment are long-lasting and can enter the food chain. Since humans are at the top of the chain, they consume higher concentrations of dioxins.

PVC itself is a highly durable material that does not easily break down in the environment. Like all plastic, it will degrade over centuries into smaller and smaller pieces, but it will never truly return to organic components.

Incinerating PVC also releases hydrochloric acid, lead, and cadmium. Lead and cadmium are found in the ash after burning, which gets sent to landfill and could potentially leak into groundwater.

Other Considerations

How important is hot water? Some websites will say hot water (such as that of a dishwasher) is the only way to properly clean plates. In fact, The Guardian’s article on the CO2 emissions of handwashing and using a dishwasher actually says “(but the plates aren’t clean)” if you use cold water to wash.

Most people can only tolerate 110°F for short periods of time, and the EPA recommends boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes to effectively purify water of bacteria. Although hot water helps activate soap/detergent to remove stuck on food, oils, and grease that can harbor bacteria, the temperature of water used either by the dishwasher or the sink itself does not make much of a difference in killing bacteria.

There’s also the practicality of needing an hour-or-more-long, superhot cycle to wash a dish. Most dishes, in my opinion, are not filthily dirty with bacteria and grime that they would require the dishwasher’s intensity (you did literally just eat off the thing, didn’t you?). A quick rinse to wash away some crumbs or scrubbing and soaping away food bits with warm water seems like a much better alternative than leaving the dish to wait around until you fill up the dishwasher and run a cycle.

The Bonn University study also specifically looks at how a group of random people do dishes instead of people who are trying to lower their environmental impacts. For the sake of showing in the average case what method is better, that’s fine. But could conscious consumers use less water and energy than a dishwasher?

Dishwashing v. Handwashing Experiment

It’s experiment time! Many articles and studies say people usually use way more water than a dishwasher does. They make it sound hard to come even close. So I wanted to see if I could wash a dishwasher’s worth of dishes by hand using less water than the dishwasher would. If I failed, I wanted to measure by how much. I also wanted to document my washing process to share how I limit my water usage. As a side note, I do not have a dishwasher in my apartment so I must wash all dishes by hand no matter the outcome of this experiment.

Thanks to AP Chemistry in high school, I still mostly remember how to fully write up an experiment. Enjoy the nerdiness!

Purpose

To find out how many dishes you can wash with less water than a dishwasher uses.

Hypothesis

If handwashing a set of dishes comparable to what a dishwasher is said to hold uses less than 6 gallons of water, then it is better than dishwashing.

Materials

  • Scrub brush
  • Dish soap
  • Pot for holding water (and to wash, as shown below)
  • Dirty dishes
    • 1 pot (4 qt)
    • 1 large plate
    • 4 small plates
    • 1 short glass
    • 1 tall glass
    • 2 metal straws
    • 1 bread pan (9×5)
    • 4 bowls
    • 1 ice cream bowl
    • 1 glass bowl
    • 4 small containers (1.25 c)
    • 1 tiny container (0.5 c)
    • 1 sandwich container (3 c)
    • 3 big containers (5 c)
    • 1 tiny bowl
    • 1 small lid
    • 4 big lids
    • 1 spatula
    • 1 paring knife
    • 7 butter knives
    • 13 spoons
    • 5 small forks
    • 4 single serve yogurt cups
    • 1 takeout container with lid (around 4 c)
    • 1 big yogurt container (32 oz)

Procedure

  • Place pot under faucet
  • Quickly wet any dry dishes allowing used water to be captured in pot
  • Soap all the dishes with soap using the scrub brush
  • Rinse dishes under faucet and let all water drain into pot
  • Record how many times the pot fills with water before all dishes have been washed
  • Calculate total amount of water used
  • Compare to a dishwasher (scale to a similar number of dishes)

Results

Total Water Usage

I filled up the big pot approximately 2.5 times, but I also need to add on additional water for all the water that the dishes were soaking in while sitting in the sink waiting for me to wash them. This would probably be another 1.5 gallons (pot-fulls), leaving me at 4 gallons.

Scaled water usage: I washed over the 54 individual pieces the EPA says a dishwasher holds. I washed a bunch of random stuff like recyclables and containers, but I did 25 pieces of silverware, 6 bowls, 5 plates, 2 glasses, and a serving utensil. I believe all the other stuff I washed definitely counts as at least the missing 2 bowls, 3 plates, 6 glasses, and 5 serving utensils.

So in total, I used around 4 gallons. This is an assumption though since I couldn’t/didn’t know how to measure the water used to rinse and soak the dishes each time we put more in the sink prior to washing. Despite this, it’s assuredly less than the 6 gallons an average dishwasher uses.

Water Temperature

I couldn’t hold a constant temperature because I turn the water off and on repeatedly. It ranged from cool to hot, but I tried to avoid really hot as much as possible.

Soap Usage

I don’t know how I would have measured soap usage since I don’t have a kitchen scale, but I believe I am more of a heavy soap user.

Total Time

The total time I spent washing dishes was about 1 hour.

Conclusion – Who’s The Real Winner?

From water use to energy use to carbon emissions, I think it’s safe to say I beat the dishwasher. From the standpoint of convenience, the dishwasher wins. If you are very concerned about hygiene, the dishwasher may get your dishes cleaner.

If you’re stuck doing the dishes (and we all have to handwash some things like pots and recyclables), try either my method of soaping then rinsing by turning the faucet on and off with each dish, or filling up separate soapy water and rinsing water bins/sides of the sink to minimize water use. I personally don’t think the hot water makes much of a difference, but to each their own.

If you have a dishwasher and want to use it, go right ahead, especially if you don’t want to be constantly thinking about saving water and energy while still getting the dishes as clean as they can be. If you have a shorter or eco cycle, use that over the more intensive washes.

Although I believe I’ve found the winner in the dishwashing v. handwashing debate, make the best choice that works in your situation. What works for me may not work for you, and that’s ok!

Who do you think the winner is? Is there anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

Dishwashing v. Handwashing A load of newly cleaned dishes sitting in an open dishwasher
Open post
Sustainable Packaging Alternatives green seaweed that can be transformed into compostable and edible food and drink packaging

Sustainable Packaging Alternatives

Introduction

Ask any parent after Christmas morning and they’ll tell you our addiction to packaging is insane. From toys stuck inside scissor-breaking plastic to individually wrapped jelly beans (yes, these are a thing) to fruit and veggies vacuum sealed on a styrofoam tray and everything in between, we waste so many finite resources on packaging (and so much time opening it all). So what sustainable packaging alternatives can cure our addiction?

Our Packaging Problem

According to Recover USA, about 1/3 of all landfill materials in America are packaging. Around 65% of American trash is packaging and, despite most being recyclable, only a fraction ever is. In addition to the wastefulness of packaging, it is also costly. Packaging can even cost much more than the product it surrounds. By buying package-less items, you can save both resources and money.

Below is a breakdown of packaging waste in the European Union from 2016. The total volumes of each packaging material have remained relatively consistent over the past decade; however, they are on the rise since the recovery from the 2008 economic crisis. Despite increasing over time, the recycling rate of packaging materials on average is only around 70%.

Packaging waste generated in the EU in 2016 by packaging material
Credit: Eurostat

With all this waste going to landfill, it’s a good thing some brilliant entrepreneurs and artists have come up with innovative new packaging materials with sustainability in mind. We will take a look at three different types of sustainable packaging in this post: mushroom, seaweed, and scoby. These materials are 100% natural, can be made in a matter of days or weeks, and will completely decompose back into natural waste materials.

Mushroom Packaging

Last spring, IKEA announced its switch to a mushroom-based packaging material for all of its products instead of styrofoam. This material, called EcoCradle, contains just two ingredients: agricultural waste and mycelium, the root structure from mushrooms. The mycelium acts as a binding agent to hold the agricultural waste together. This material can be molded into whatever shape is needed for the packaging.

Ecovative Design developed EcoCradle over a decade ago in 2007. The production process takes only 9 days start to finish. The process consists of creating a Growth Tray to create the proper shape, letting a mixture of hemp, flour, and mycelium grow for 4 days within the sealed Growth Tray, popping the form out of the tray and allowing another 2 days to grow, then finally letting it dry out for a few more days. This process costs a tiny fraction of the energy as plastic production and slashes carbon emissions. Below are some of the benefits of this material:

  • Home compostable material
  • 100% natural
  • Moldable into any shape
  • Flame and water resistant
  • Grown in only 9 days
  • Fully decomposes in 1-3 months
  • Uses 98% less energy than styrofoam to manufacture
  • Emits 90% less carbon than plastics
  • Similar cost to styrofoam packaging
  • Can grow without light or water
  • Makes use of agricultural waste
  • Lightweight, yet strong and durable

Seaweed Packaging

Seaweed and algae are vital organisms for our oceans. Not only are they an important food source, but algae can also clean up polluted waterways by filtering out nutrient-rich pollutants as food.

Margarita Telap

Magarita Telap,  a Chilean designer, became frustrated with the amount of packaging in her daily life. So she decided to experiment and invent a natural algae-based packaging. The culinary world has used agar for generations. Boiling red algae creates this gel-like material. Telap adds water to the agar as a plasticizer and boils the mixture with dyes to create her packaging. She uses fruits and vegetables to naturally dye the material. She then pours the substance into a mold and leaves it to cool and become rigid.

This material can easily be heat sealed and is best suited for dry goods like pastas or grains. Telap can also adjust the ratio of water and agar to create different levels of rigidity required for specific product functions. This bioplastic will break down in just 2 to 3 months, depending on temperature and the material’s thickness.

Notpla

You may have heard about the water pods handed out at the London Marathon last spring. Skipping Rocks Lab designed these edible pouches and dubbed them Oohos. The material itself is called Notpla, a combination of seaweed and plants that breaks down in just 4 to 6 weeks. With over 40,000 runners in the marathon, these little pods saved over 800 pounds of plastic.

Brown seaweed is the main ingredient of notpla and is a nearly renewable resource as it can grow over a meter per day. The seaweed requires no fresh water or fertilizers to grow, making it a more natural and sustainable process than that of other materials or crops. This sustainable packaging material can even be cheaper to produce than the plastic counterpart it is trying to replace.

In addition to the drink pouches, Skipping Rocks Lab uses Notpla to create sauce and dressing packets as well as a takeaway tray liner that is water and grease resistant. They are currently also working on heat-sealable films and nets made from Notpla.

Evoware/Evo & Co

A similar product to Margarita’s bioplastic is the seaweed-based packaging from Evoware (edit: now Evo & Co). The material is used to create a variety of commercially available products including food wraps, coffee and dry seasoning sachets, and soap and toiletry packaging. Evoware not only works to reduce the plastic waste and pollution problems our world is facing, but the company also addresses farmer wellbeing and ensures farmers are paid fairly.

This seaweed-based packaging is tasteless and odorless. Their food wraps and sachets are edible, and all of the products will dissolve in warm water, making them a truly zero waste product. Below is a quick summary of benefits of this material.

  • Some products are edible and nutritious, containing fiber, vitamins, and minerals
  • Dissolves in warm water and 100% biodegradable
  • Acts as a natural plant fertilizer
  • 2 year shelf life without preservatives
  • Halal certified, safe to eat, and produced in compliance with HACCP standards
  • Customizable taste and color
  • Printable material to add brand logos, images, etc.
  • Heat sealable

Scoby

What’s scoby? Probably not as appetizing as a Scooby Snack but great for the environment! Scoby is actually an acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast. By fermenting scoby with food and/or agricultural waste, the bacteria and yeast create layers of gel-like microbial cellulose. This cellulose either dries out into sheets or gets molded into different shapes (tray, bowl, plate, etc.).

Emma Sicher

Italian designer Emma Sicher’s “From Peel to Peel” project is “an experimental approach for packaging”. Scoby mixes with water, an acetic compound, sugar, and organic material for a period of 2 to 4 weeks in a warm environment to create the microbial cellulose used for packaging.

Similar to Margarita Talep, Sicher uses different fruits and vegetables to naturally dye her material. She can dye the cellulose either wet or dry using various pureed food scraps to provide the desired color.

Sicher wanted to follow a cradle to cradle approach in her sustainable packaging project so that food can be eaten then used to create the packaging for new food. After use as packaging, consumers can compost the cellulose to create a fertilizer to help grow more food.

She has created tableware, sachets, and bags with her material, which can be printed on for branding purposes. The can package both dry goods and food items that will be consumed quickly after wrapping, such as street foods. Sicher hopes to see a future with a more circular approach to packaging on a global scale.

MakeGrowLab

Polish designer Roza Janusz is behind this sustainable packaging company that produces scoby packaging much in the same way as Emma Sicher. MakeGrowLab works with customers to create custom packaging solutions. The material takes just two weeks to produce and is appropriate for dry or semi-dry goods.

This packaging material requires no sunlight to grow and utilizes agricultural waste as the food for bacteria and yeast. Not only does it use a byproduct in production, but this material is also…

  • Edible
  • Home compostable
  • An oxygen and microbial barrier
  • Insoluble in water
  • Printable to add brand logos, images, etc.
  • Customizable

Conclusion

There is a way to reduce our packaging waste beyond all-naked products. By thinking outside the box and using the natural world around us, we can move toward a more sustainable future that does not compromise convenience.

These types of sustainable packaging materials are produced quickly using limited resources and return to the earth in a matter of weeks to months, unless you eat it yourself!

More concerned with reducing your packaging waste on an individual scale? Check out my post on How to Reduce Packaging Waste.

Sustainable Packaging Alternatives green seaweed that can be transformed into compostable and edible food and drink packaging
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