Detergents and Water Pollution

March, 2022 by Dimple Mande - Team Applied Jainism

Applied Jainism – is a social platform to collaborate & discuss contemporary issues on sustainable co-existence (Parasparopagraho Jīvānām / परस्परोपग्रहो जीवानाम् where the principle of Jain philosophy & spirituality can guide us and become the torch bearer in the modern age.

We love the smell of fresh laundry, but…………………

Do you know that cleaning has a direct impact on marine living beings and environment?

Bhagavan Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism included Ahimsa as a fundamental principle. All life is sacred, and every living being has a right to live fearlessly.

While we take ample care to avoid himsa’ associated with food we consume (For e.g.: by abstaining from eating underground vegetables, boiling and filtering water), what about the himsa in other activities in our current lifestyle which happens knowingly or unknowingly? With any kind of himsa, direct or indirect, we not only accumulate more Karmas but also impact our climate, our food cycle in some way or the other and all these eventually come back to bite us.

Water, which is our life, is also a “universal solvent”, and is able to dissolve more substances than any other liquid on the Earth. It’s also why, water is so easily polluted. We all know that the toxic substances from farms, towns, and factories contribute to the water pollution. But, now even our houses are contributing to it.

Our quest to get our whites to their whitest and keep the colours bright, is impacting not just air and water borne beings (one-sense to five-sense beings) but also creating pollution that is coming back to us and affecting the human health. The washing agents, detergents, toilet cleaners, we routinely use at home are having the real and significant impact in increasing the water pollution.

Our choice of laundry detergents, washing practices and clothing have a direct impact on the quality and health of our lakes, streams as well as water consumption. As part of the wastewater coming from the home, these detergents have multiple adverse effects as given below: –

  1. Phosphate Nutrient Loading: Detergents contain phosphates to make their action more efficient. The phosphorous from the detergents finds its way to ground-water, lakes and rivers. In these water bodies – which supply us with fresh water and foster aquatic life – the phosphorous causes nutrient pollution and feeds the algae leading to eutrophication (effectively reducing the oxygen levels in the water bodies) with severe impact on the marine life.
  2. Surfactant Toxicity Increase: In detergents, surfactants help dirt to drop out and stay out of clothing and the same surfactant when it reaches water bodies, it removes a thin layer from the fish’s skin that protects it from bacteria and parasites. Surfactants can disrupt the endocrine systems of animals and decrease the breeding rates of organisms. The metals like cadmium and arsenic also increase the toxicity of the water bodies.
  3. Soil Structure: Some of the salts that conventional detergents contain affect soil structure, making it less fertile in some cases, and in other cases killing the healthy bacteria that naturally grows in the soil and helps to keep its structure.
  4. Microplastics: Synthetic clothes, like nylon, polyester and rayon, all essentially plastic derivatives, release billions of microplastics — teeny bits of plastic smaller than one millimetre — when washed. These microplastics eventually make their way into oceans where they slowly bioaccumulate up the food chain.

Thus, our common household activity like laundry is leading to himsa. But laundry is an essential activity. How do we stop or reduce this himsa? Feel helpless, right? What can we do to save these souls and reduce our Karma? Investing in conscious buying of clothes, and use of eco-friendly cleaning products for your home are some of the simplest ways to move to a more sustainable way of living.

  1. Eco-friendly detergents: Green cleaning is seeing a huge rise in interest as more of us are challenging the old mainstream brands. Besides the environment, eco-friendly detergents preserve the clothes from excessive wear and damage prolonging their life whist also being safe for people with sensitive skin.
    Moving back to more traditional methods like using lemon and bicarb of soda in various combinations, using detergents that are derived from natural sources like oil and soybeans, over the synthetic type or opting for brands that focus on plant-based ingredients and plastic free packaging are also the part of solution.
  2. Laundry Temperature and cycle time: Researchers from Northumbria University found that washing clothes on shorter, cooler cycles reduced microfiber shedding by up to 30 percent. Washing at higher temperatures releases tons of microfibers into the ocean.
  3. Correct Dosage: Cut back on the amount of soap used per load of washing. The average consumer overdoses on laundry detergent by 30%. Always verify the dosages and the suggested washing temperature. The lower the dosage and temperature are, better it is for the environment and for your pocket.
  4. Buying less and buying better: The rise of fast fashion in recent decades has popularized cheap, disposable clothing with a short shelf life, flimsy construction, and a mix of materials that makes them difficult to recycle. Buying fewer but better, durable garments have a significant impact on both microfiber shedding and greenhouse gas emissions.

Remember, every action, however, small counts! Every degree makes a difference!


About Author

Dimple Mande – Team Applied Jainism

Dimple is an MBA, Finance from NMIMS. Currently working as Asst. VP at a Leading privately held professional services, company, she has supported Eco-friendly initiatives at the Inner Wheel Club of Thane Garden City since, 2018. Looking for opportunities to make a meaningful impact with regard to Climate, she joined the Applied Jainism team.

Co – edited Sangeetha Chhajed

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments