The idea that powdered detergents are bad for septic systems has come up twice in the last couple of weeks and although I didn’t believe it I had to do some research to back up my disbelief. What did I find out? Professionals tell septic system owners that powdered detergents (laundry and dishwashing) will clog their tanks and this is a MYTH, well sort of.
After reading up on it I realized it is not a difference between powder and liquid detergents, it is about natural/biodegradable ingredients vs. chemical/petroleum based ingredients. And it is about the fillers and additives. The professionals need to give a more detailed explanation before spreading this MYTH. And consumers need to dig a little deeper into their cleaning product ingredients because labels and product marketing can be very misleading and confusing.
A little background if you are not familiar with septic systems
A septic system, in partnership with ground soil and bacteria, works to filter waste water before it returns to the groundwater. A septic system needs the right balance of water, pH, and bacteria to keep the system healthy. Any disruption to this process could damage the health and structure of a septic system and pollute the surrounding ecosystem.
So how was this MYTH created?
"Traditional" powdered detergents, compared to liquid, contains more fillers and additives. These fillers could be composed of anything, clay, granulated plastics, or other petroleum based ingredient that does not biodegrade or dissolve in water. These non-biodegradable ingredients will build up in the top layer of scum that also contains oils, fats, hair, and possibly paper products. A small scum layer is important and beneficial to the health of a tank, it acts as a seal to keep the air out and provides protection to the good bacteria, but if it becomes too large it will create clogging problems.
"Traditional" liquid detergents will also have these non-biodegradable ingredients that do harm to septic tanks. Using liquid instead of powder detergent will not protect the health of a septic system if non-biodegradable and harsh chemicals are still being used.
In conclusion to my quick, down and dirty research, don't worry about your preference between liquid and powder cleaners when considering the health of your septic system. Do not pay attention to all the flashy marketing and greenwashing. Pay attention to the ingredients and always choose biodegradable. Reading labels can get confusing and overwhelming because of all the variations in chemical names. Companies try to sneak in all those nasty fillers and additives using a variety of names. Environmental Working Group is a great resource to check the safety of ingredients in any household or body care product you are considering purchasing. I use this website all the time when researching new products. They also have an app to put on your phone to use while on the go and shopping. https://www.ewg.org/
Never choose these ingredients!
Let's talk Surfactants
The word surfactant means surface active agent. Surfactants help to repeal dirt from a surface. There are both natural/biodegradable and man-made/chemical surfactants. This was news to me because I thought the term surfactants was something bad and was a warning sign to stay away from that product. In its pure form, washing soda is a surfactant.
Okay, I just dipped my toes too deep into the chemistry (chemistry killed my dream of a biology degree) of surfactants and got overwhelmed! Here are a couple of websites I found that explains surfactants: https://www.safehouseholdcleaning.com/anionic-nonionic-surfactants/ and https://www.ipcol.com/blog/an-easy-guide-to-understanding-surfactants/
Feel free to explore and learn more details about surfactants all you want!
And we should talk about SUDS!- yay, more chemistry!
HE washing machines and septic systems hate excessive suds and having foaming bubbles don't make clothes any cleaner. For those that have already switched to natural cleaning and body care products you may have noticed less suds in your life and you and your home are just as clean and happy without all that foaming action.
SLS- Sodium Laureth Sulfate is a foaming agent. SLS is bad for your health, your septic tank, and the environment. Just take my word for it because I really don't want to learn and explain the chemistry on this one!
Always choose biodegradable ingredients!
I decided to dig deeper into the individual ingredients of Molly’s Suds to learn their affects to a septic system.
Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salts): removes buildup in fibers and helps keep washing machines smelling clean. Epsom salt is only mildly acidic and will not affect the pH balance of a healthy septic system. It will work as a fertilizer in the leaching field.
Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda): Molly’s Suds uses aluminum-free and food-grade quality. It reduces odor causing bacteria and sudsing (remember sudsing is BAD) and is a gentle cleanser. A septic system will benefit from the addition of baking soda. Baking soda is used as a natural, biodegradable alternative to synthetic, harsh chemicals and will help keep a septic tank from clogging without the harsh chemicals that kill off all the good bacteria.
Sodium Carbonate (washing soda, soda ash): Molly’s Suds uses a sustainably sourced, pure product that is safe to use as medicinal and food ingredients. It is used to remove stains and is a natural, biodegradable alternative to chemical surfactants. It is also used as a natural water softener to boost the cleaning power of the other ingredients
Sea Salt: used to prevent clumping. A natural, safe alternative to borax. There are many differing opinions on whether borax is safe.
Bonus tip: Regularly use baking soda, vinegar, and hot water to keep your drains clean. Chemical drain cleaners will kill all the good bacteria in your septic tank.
Walt Disney: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”
We are opening up a section of our storefront to share with individuals who need a little push, encouragement, or place to grow ideas. This space will allow a budding entrepreneur or maker to get a little taste of the business world without the commitment or overhead. Think of it as a long-term pop-up shop but doesn’t necessarily need to be a retail/selling space. It could easily be an artist/maker studio that provides a work space with a little public exposure. It could also be slightly closed off for a little more privacy and be set up as a small office. We will charge a fee for the space but it will be based on a variety of options that are dependent on the needs of the occupant, including a gradual fee option as their business grows. Just like the Growing Shed’s mission this idea is a work in progress that will evolve, grow, or fizzle out as we see fit. Either way, we are super excited about this opportunity to bring in new budding energies to our storefront in Homer, AK!
Warren Buffett: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”
The first to move into the Growing Shed is Martine and her plants. She is a friend and one of my inspirations for making the Growing Shed a reality. I wanted to give her the space to show off her green thumb and amazing design talents. She will be in the Growing Shed until the end of the year. We will both see where this takes us after that. I am super thankful Martine agreed to being the guinea pig for this idea and we are both excited to see what the space and her business evolves into. Martine’s plants will be available to purchase during Sustainable Wares’ open hours and she will soon have “office hours” for you to talk to her about the plants she sells. We are already starting to brainstorm ideas of what to name her business. ANY SUGGESTIONS? Please comment below!
Please join us this Saturday, November 2nd 11-6pm for an open house of the new Growing Shed at Sustainable Wares and welcome Martine and her plants to the space. We will have light refreshments!
Yesterday, Homer voted to give this SINGLE USE PLASTIC BAG BAN another try! I was actually pleasantly surprised by the wide margin of YES votes. The unofficial results from the City of Homer website are 748 yes and 406 no. Another try? Yes, we would have been the first city in Alaska to ban single use plastic bags and we even voted yes on it a few years back. But, Homer is a unique Alaskan community of strong-minded people with diverse views, opinions, and lifestyles so when important things come up for a vote it can get a bit difficult and unpleasant.
Sustainable Wares wants to thank all who work hard and in a kind/respectful manner to get SINGLE USE PLASTIC BAGS BANNED in Homer and all communities!
Shop Sustainable Wares in Homer or online and receive a FREE REUSABLE BAG! Starting now and ending Saturday, October 5 you will receive a FREE REUSABLE BAG with your purchase of $25 or more. No codes or special mentions necessary. Only one bag per person, please respect our small business budget.
"Eco-ableism is simply a form of ableism, or discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. The “eco” comes from environmental activists who, through attempting to save the environment, don’t do so that takes into account those with less privilege than them." -Eco Warrior Princess
The subject of single use plastic bans and in particular straw bans start conversations that can go in many directions. One of the reasons I want to talk about single use plastic straws instead of the general single use plastic is because of what happened when the first straw bans started trending. The conversation and the controversy that started was, I think and hope, an important turning point in environmental activism. It was time to take a few steps back and put extra thought into plastic bans, not all, just some.
We all know the facts about why single use plastic straws are bad and you might even be getting overwhelmed by the constant reminders because it has become the big current trend. We have all seen plenty of heartbreaking videos and photos of various wildlife (the turtle video https://youtu.be/4wH878t78bw WARNING: this is a hard one to watch) being impacted by straws or beaches and bodies of water covered in plastic.
Here are a few of the iconic images that have shocked us all into making changes:
Facts about single use plastic straws:
I am always fascinated about how trends start. Why the single use plastic straw ban over some of the other important issues we need to take into consideration to help protect the planet and reduce the amount of plastics ending up in our oceans? As some say, straws were the low hanging fruit in the world of environmental activism. They are visible, abundant, and, so they thought, would be an easy success story in the war on plastic. Celebrities and big corporations have a big impact. The Lonely Whale Foundation (with the awesome Adrian Grenier as a co-founder) started the "Strawless Seattle" and #StopSucking campaigns. For more information about Lonely Whale go to: https://www.lonelywhale.org/.
And then there is Starbucks plan to eliminate plastic straws by replacing them with a plastic sippy cup style lid. Although, the lid might be recyclable, it is replacing one piece of needed plastic with a larger amount of plastic that doesn't cover the needs of many people. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/business/starbucks-plastic-straws.html
One of the other reasons why straw bans have been trending is because they became controversial and for a very good reason. The first drafts of bans did not take into consideration that straws save lives, they were an outright ban with no exceptions to the rule. Let me repeat this, STRAWS SAVE LIVES. And this is where the conversation turns to something that doesn’t get much coverage, a term called “eco-ableism”. This phrase has become a part of my life as I have been transitioning to a low waste lifestyle but also in the past year have had to adjust to a body that is no longer able to do the things I use to because of a disability. And although my disability has nothing to do with using or not using a straw, my empathy towards living with a disability that makes daily tasks harder for many people has gone through the roof in the past year. I wanted to use the trending straw bans as a way to introduce the idea of eco-ableism. It really needs its own discussion, but for now we are just talking straws. In my research I have found many discussions on the subject that I would like to share with you.
Here is a link to a great article about the general idea of eco-ableism and why it needs to be considered when talking about environmental activism.
I liked this podcast because she talked about the importance of single use plastic bans like bags but gave very good reasons why the beginning versions of the plastic straw bans needed more consideration. https://rudermanfoundation.org/podcast/episode-1/
And more articles about straw bans and disabilities.
Reviews on a variety of reusable straws.
Playing the guilt game. Yes, there needs to be less single use straws in this world. No, you don’t need to give someone a reason why you are asking for a straw. And, no, you don’t need to feel guilty about using a single use plastic straw. I keep seeing this meme trending and I absolutely hate it. Nobody deserves this guilt trip.
One of the strongest ways to reduce single use plastic straw use is for corporations and businesses to take action on their own to reduce use. A simple policy change of only providing a straw when requested, no questions asked, will do the trick.
Ending on a lighter but still honest note:
Have you been affected by eco-ableism? What is your favorite type of reusable straw to use? Tell us in the comments! Mine is glass because of the variety of sizes and it doesn't change the taste of the drink. But, I am thinking silicone would also be a great option because of it's bendability and ease of cleaning and sanitizing.
Want to know more about our glass straw collection? Here is a video from our partners at Strawesome:
If you want to make the switch to reusable straws here is our selection. They make great gifts!
EARTH DAY IS APRIL 22ND!
Author: Karen West
Exploring the world of sustainability.