What is an Eco Sponge?
Eco Swap is a great and concise expression.
Simply put, it’s about swapping out out products we use every day for more eco conscious alternatives. That might mean swapping a plastic utensil for one made from biodegradable materials, or it could mean buying your product locally so that there is less carbon associated with it.
At time of writing there are more than 2500 Instagram posts tagged #ecoswap, a number bound to increase exponentially over time.
What is an Eco Sponge?
For the purposes of this article I’m going to describe an eco sponge as plastic free and biodegradable (including the packaging!)
Unfortunately, all sponges described (plastic or otherwise) come from warmer climates than the UK, so there is inevitably some carbon associated with their transportation. Bonus points for low carbon freight though!
Are Plastic Sponges Eco Friendly?
Today I’m exploring the kitchen sponge, (dish sponge, dish washing sponge, scrubbing sponge, whatever you want to call it). You know the one. Yellow, square and plastic, usually with a scrubbing “scourer” side.
Most conventional kitchen sponges are derived from polyurethane (PUR or PU) 
With a name like polyurethane, you don’t have to be a genius to work out that it’s a synthetic polymer - a plastic. 
Polyurethanes degrade relatively quickly (for a plastic) showing signs of cracking and crumbling after 20-30 years, rendering them useless. 
However, once fractured into tiny pieces (micro plastics), there is no telling how long they may prevail, and have been found in marine sediments across Europe. 
(Amazingly, some fungi have actually demonstrated the ability to organically break down polyurethane, though there are currently no plans to implement them into our waste disposal processes) 
Believe it or not, this substance is actually highly recyclable - but when was the last time you put your tatty old sponge in the recycling bin? This is because not all suppliers make PUR's recyclability obvious, and not all councils accept it in their recycling programmes. There are specialist polyurethane recycling companies, but the vast majority still ends up in landfills.  Of course, recycling doesn’t even necessarily mean "eco friendly", illustrated with scandal regarding governments outsourcing their recycling.  Additionally, in reality we can’t even be certain that this outsourced recycling ever took place - it may have still ended up in landfill.
There is also the argument recycling just keeps plastics in use slightly longer, and that their inevitable fate is still landfill, micro-plastics or incineration.
The best thing to do may be to move away from plastics entirely where possible.
Are Sea Sponges Eco Friendly?
Historically sponges were made from just that. Sponge. Sea sponge, of the phylum Porifera  to be precise. Though this is a plastic-free, biodegradable material, there is some debate as to whether it is cruelty free. Sea sponges are among the simplest animals on earth and lack a nervous system, but they are still classed as animals. As such, sea sponges are an animal product and not vegan friendly.
Equally, though not endangered at this time, how long would this remain so if we all made this particular eco swap? Especially as there extremely slow growth rates  make them an unattractive prospect for aquaculture (“sea farming”).
Are Loofah Sponges Eco Friendly?
And thus we come to the loofah (often spelt luffa). The loofah is a vine and member of the cucumber family. The fruit of the loofah plant looks similar to conventional cucumbers and is edible if harvested early. Indeed, loofah fruit is widely consumed throughout Asia. If the fruit is allowed to mature and dry on the vine, the flesh disappears leaving only the fibrous skeleton. This porous skeleton has excellent application as a bathing or cleaning sponge, for which it has been used for centuries.
In my opinion, the loofah is the obvious choice for this eco swap:
Loofah sponges are completely plastic free and thus utterly biodegradable.
They do not depend on the oil industry for their production as polyurethane sponges do.
They are already widely farmed for food and bathroom uses.
They are cheap and readily available.
They are not classed as animals, and thus are vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Farming them does not interfere with marine ecosystems in anyway.
How to care for your Loofah Eco Sponge
One of the critical benefits of loofah sponges highlighted above is that they are biodegradable. This does mean you may need to care for your loofah sponge slightly differently to prevent it biodegrading prematurely.
I try to ensure my loofah sponges are completely dry between uses by hanging them in an open and warm place (above the sink or on that tap). I’ve also found using two on rotation helps ensure they both get adequately dry between uses.
Final Thoughts I have loved swapping from plastic dish sponges to ones made from loofah, and I’m sure you will to.
I am so impressed that we have plans in the spring to try and grow our own! This might be tricky seeing as they prefer tropical and subtropical environments, but I’m sure the green house is up to it. Watch this space!