Post by Isabel, founder of the Party Kit Network
One of the reasons that disposable plates are so popular is because it avoids any washing up after the party. So to get the benefit of disposables but without the waste, many of the party kits within our network provide a washing up service. This means we've learnt a thing or two about washing up!
When I started my journey to reduce plastic at home I was shocked at just how bad for the environment washing up products are - I never realised that washing up sponges were made from plastic. It has taken me time to find the options which work best for me so here's my guide to eco-friendly washing up in the UK with reduced or no plastic, including:
Eco-Friendly Washing Up Liquid
Plastic free washing up liquid
Many zero waste stores and market stalls stock refill washing up liquid. Common UK brands are SESI, Fill and Bio-D.
Find your local zero waste store at Zero Waste Near Me and then pop along your own bottle and get as much dishwashing liquid as you need. A plastic or glass bottle with a wide bottle neck and secure lid work best - for example a glass passata bottle. (Note: As with all cleaning products, please ensure that bottles are correctly labelled and kept out of reach of children.)
A bit more detail about the most common brands in the UK...
SESI make a spiced-ginger and a fragrance-free eco-friendly washing up liquid. The products are delivered to stockists in plastic drums and containers. Once empty these are returned to SESI to be reused. Their products are made in the UK, vegan-friendly and cruelty-free.
Fill Refill Co make an eco-friendly fragrance-free washing up liquid available in 500ml glass bottles and packaging free from refill stockists. Their products are made in the UK, vegan-friendly, cruelty-free and endorsed by Allergy UK.
Bio-D make fragranced and fragrance-free washing up liquid. It is possible to buy their products in bulk in 100% recycled plastic packaging, but you can also buy their products packaging-free from many refill stores. Their products are made in the UK, vegan-friendly, certified cruelty-free and endorsed by Allergy UK.
Reduced plastic washing up liquid
If getting to a refill store isn't practical for you, then there are ways to buy eco-friendly washing up liquid with a bit less plastic.
One option is to buy a concentrated liquid which you mix with water at home. This significantly reduces both the amount of plastic and the amount of CO2 generated during transportation.
Splosh make an eco-friendly highly concentrated washing up liquid sent directly to you via post in a plastic pouch which fits through your letterbox. This is then diluted with hot water to make 3 bottles’ worth of dishwashing liquid. Splosh provides a closed loop solution where you can return empty pouches to them by freepost for recycling. Refillable bottles are available from their website but you can use any bottle and just follow the dilution guide on the pouch. I like to use an old body wash bottle with a pump top as it's easier to control the amount of liquid used each time, Splosh washing up liquid is made in Wales, vegan-friendly and certified cruelty-free.
Another option is to buy washing up liquid in bulk, which reduces the amount of plastic used. Bio-D sell eco-friendly washing up liquid in 5 and 15 litre bottles made of recycled plastic.
Recycled plastic washing up liquid
Ecover make an eco-friendly washing up liquid packaged in a bottle made of 100% recycled plastic. This is available in all major supermarkets and once used the bottle can be recycled along with other plastic bottles. There has been some confusing messaging about the cruelty-free status of the Ecover brand. They are owned by SC Johnson who do test on animals, however the Ecover brand has cruelty free status - read more about this on Cruelty Free Kitty.
Solid Washing Up Soap Bar
For truly plastic-free washing up try a dishwashing soap - yes, a bar of soap for your dishes!
Primal Suds make ‘Dish Splash’ an eco-friendly washing up bar. It’s made in the UK, vegan-friendly and cruelty-free.
Little Fox Soapery make a dish soap in Scotland. There's fragrance-free and lemon scented versions. It's vegan-friendly, cruelty-free and made from plant-based ingredients.
Eco Living make a vegan-friendly washing up soap bar from 100% natural ingredients in the UK. Available online from Eco-Sal.
As with barred soap, a dish soap bar will last longer if you allow it to fully dry out between uses.
Eco-friendly Dishwasher Powder
It is possible to buy dishwasher powder in cardboard cartons from the supermarket, and if avoiding plastic is important to you, this is one of the most economical ways to go plastic free. However these powders are often not eco-friendly formulas and I've found it difficult to clean the empty cardboard box enough to recycle.
Many zero waste stores stock refill dishwasher powder. Find your local refill store at Zero Waste Near Me and take along your own container. A plastic tub with secure lid works best - like an ice cream tub, plastic takeaway tub or large margarine tub. Once home, I decant dishwasher powder into a labelled glass jar using a funnel; I find this the easiest way to then pour the powder into the dishwasher powder compartment. (Note: As with all cleaning products, please ensure that tubs are correctly labelled and kept out of reach of children.)
A common UK brand is SESI who make a citrus eco-friendly dishwasher powder. The products are delivered to stockists in plastic drums and containers. Once empty these are returned to SESI to be reused. Their products are made in the UK, vegan-friendly and cruelty-free.
You could make your own dishwasher powder. The Green Boutique, based in West Sussex, have a great DIY dishwasher powder kit. Their recipe is non-toxic and the kit ingredients are shipped in recyclable or biodegradable packaging.
Eco-friendly Dishwasher Tablets
Eco-friendly dishwasher tablets from Ecoleaf are the best I've tried so far and are available in a cardboard box. These tablets include rinse aid. They are made in the EU, vegan-friendly and certified cruelty-free. Ecoleaf tablets are available from multiple retailers including Ethical Superstore.
Ecozone make environmentally friendly dishwasher tablets available in a cardboard box. They are vegan-friendly, cruelty-free and endorsed by Allergy UK. Available from a range of stockists including Big Green Smile and Ethical Superstore.
Mulieres make an eco-friendly all-in-one dishwasher tablet. Certified by ECOCERT and Vegan friendly in 100% recyclable packaging. Available online from Big Green Smile.
Splosh make an eco-friendly dishwasher tablet with rinse aid. This is available online and shipped in cardboard packaging small enough to fit through the letterbox. These tablets are made in Europe, vegan-friendly and certified cruelty-free.
All these dishwasher tablets are wrapped in a "water soluble film" which will dissolve and should breakdown to carbon dioxide and water. [source: Grist]
Eco-friendly Rinse Aid for Dishwashers
SESI make a hand water rinse aid available from bulk buy stores. The rinse aid is made in the UK, vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, and made from a biodegradable plant-based formula.
My local stockist sells 5-litre bottles which can be returned for reuse, reducing the amount of plastic. Find a stockist.
Eco-friendly Dishwashing Utensils
When learning more about the plastics found around my home, I was surprised just how unsustainable all my washing up utensils were.
Georgina Wilson-Powell explains in her book Is It Really Green? that sponge scourers are made from polyurethane (a type of plastic) and will take hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill. And those blue-and-white woven cloths "are mostly made from viscose (which is made of wood pulp in a chemical- and energy-heavy process), and, while they do biodegrade under the right conditions, the majority of them end up in landfill, where there's neither enough air nor heat for microbes to break them down."
So, not great news.... Here are some alternatives which are a bit more eco-friendly:
Dishcloths I don't know why I wasn't using cotton dishcloths before! Not only do they clean better, they last much much longer than the blue and white woven cloths, and can be composted at end of life.
100% cotton dish cloths are available from hardware stores, online stores like &Keep or even Poundland. I have spotted them in some UK supermarket but they often come in a plastic bag, but hopefully that will change.
Another option is the waffle-weave dish cloth. Look for ones made from organic cotton.
Or there are eco sponge cloths available. These are normally made from cellulose (wood pulp) and cotton and are available with minimal / non-plastic packaging. These are my favourite cloths for wiping down the kitchen surfaces and have lasted ages - much longer than my old cloths. I've had some for over a year now. They can be cleaned in the washing machine and then air-dried. At end-of-life just pop them in the compost bin. Popular brands include Eco Living.
Pan Scourer A coconut scourer is an alternative to a plastic sponge scourer. There are many brands of cocnut scourer including EcoCoconut. Their coconut scourers are made from sustainably farmed coconut husk and held together with a small amount of recyclable metal.
These are surprisingly durable, safe to use on non-stick pans and shift dirt easily. I also like them for cleaning my hob top.
They do shed a little during use, which can be annoying but if this happens just rinse off. To prolong life, allow to fully dry out between use. At end-of-life remove the metal clasp for recycling and put the coconut husk in the compost bin. Coconut scourers can be found in many stores including online at Eco-Sal.
Another option is the wooden pot brush. These have a short wooden handle (check for FSC certified) and planet-based bristles often including Tampico which is a type of Mexican cactus or coconut husk. These are available at most zero waste stores and online including &Keep, Eco Living and Eco-Sal.
Or try a Kilo EuroScrubby. Made from cotton with a non-plastic coating, these cloths are great for both the washing up and cleaning around the house, especially when trying to remove soap scum in the bathroom. They are safe to use on non-stick pans and can be cleaned in the washing machine (but shouldn't be put in the tumble dryer). I've not been able to find them in many UK stores, but have spotted them in some cook shops like Season.
Washing Up Sponge
A loofah pad is made from the Loofah plant and often have a cotton string loop for handing. They soften when wet and can be cleaned in the washing machine. They can be composted at end-of-life.
Many people rave about these although I personally didn't get on with them for washing up as I found it annoying when all bits of food got stuck in them. You can also use these pads for cleaning or even in the shower as a body puff! Common brand is LoofCo which are stocked by &Keep or you could grow your own.
Or try a 'unsponge' or 'none sponge' made from bamboo and cotton which are plastic-free and compostable at end-of-life. There's also a heavy duty version often with a hessian backing. A popular brand is Tabitha Eve which are handmade in Wales and stocked by many online stores including Peace with the Wild. You could also make your own.
Wooden Dish Brush Look for plastic-free wooden dish brushes made with FSC certified wood and one where you can replace just the brush head when the bristles wear out. Most have bristles made from Tampico which is a type of Mexican cactus.
The heads and handle can both be composted at end-of-life and the metal loop recycled with scrap metal. To prolong the life of both the handle and the brush heads allow the brush to fully dry out between use. These are available from many zero waste stores, including Eco Living and some hardware retailers, including Robert Dyas.
Washing Up Gloves
If You Care make plastic-free rubber gloves made from Fairtrade FSC certified rubber sourced from a responsibility managed plantation with a cotton lining.
The gloves come in packaging made from recycled cardboard. The gloves are pretty durable, and at end-of-life the gloves can be cut up and put in the home compost.
Washing Up Bowl
If you prefer a bowl when washing up rather than just using a plug, it is possible to buy plastic-free washing up bowls. There are ones made of rubber, enamel or stainless steel.
Popular brand Addis now sell a bowl made in the UK from 100% recycled plastic, available at The Range and most supermarkets. Be careful to check the labelling as Addis still make some of their bowls from virgin plastic.
Eco-friendly Washing Up by Hand
When washing up in the sink by hand there are ways to get the most from the water you're using. Not only does this reduce waste, it will also save you money if you're on a water metre.
Use a washing up bowl; this significantly reduces the amount of water used verses leaving the tap running.
Wash glassware first to avoid grease from other items. Rinse cans, foil and other items ready for recycling at the very end in the grey water.
So that's our guide to making the washing up a little more environmentally friendly!
It's true that many of the cleaning products could be better. Some still contain synthetic ingredients or are made outside of the UK or could have a better reuse model. But all are a little more eco-conscious than many of the mainstream brands and as demand for better solutions grows hopefully manufactures will respond.
Found something else? Please let us know