During our climate-resolved season world changing ideas Podcast, we look at grand ideas like replacing petrochemicals with plant-based chemicals and turning methane into polymers to produce everyday goods. And while many of us want to help ourselves make a difference, most of us probably don’t have a chemical manufacturing plant at home.
but, Most of us do laundry. We are trained to wash laundry at high temperatures to remove tough stains. Nevertheless, it is estimated that 90% washing machine energy The water goes into heating and household laundry in the US produces an estimated 179 million metric tons of CO2 each year. On our last regular episode of this season world changing ideasWe explore how simple cold washes can reduce ocean pollution as well as save energy.
Laundry detergent company Tide was launched last year #turntocold movement, NFL, WWF, and popular basic apparel company Hanesbrands, whose packaging now includes a call-to-action that recommends cold washing. Hanesbrands Chief Sustainability Officer Chris Fox discussed with us what he called a “very simple question.” Washing cold “will have a greater impact on the greenhouse gas emissions of apparel than anything else along the value chain,” he says. “So it’s really that important.”
This means turning the machine’s knob to “cold tap” if available. “In other words, no energy is expended heating it beyond ambient temperature,” Fox says. Contrary to our long-standing beliefs, washing with hot water will neither remove more stains nor make it more likely to kill germsA fair thought in the COVID-19 era.
If energy concerns don’t reassure people, there may be a more visceral one: the fact that with each meal, we’re consuming microfiber, tiny strings of synthetic, petroleum-based fibers, many of which come out of our clothes. Andrea Huvard, a biology professor at California Lutheran University who runs a research laboratory on microfiber pollution, explains that washing our clothes in hot water can release more fibers into Earth’s water systems. Hot water (and longer cycles) tend to loosen the fibers more. A single wash can remove 700,000 short fibers; An average North American household releases about 135 grams of microfiber annually.
They are extremely abundant. In Huward’s lab, “we have yet to sample anything that doesn’t contain microfibers,” she says. Although they may not harm us as much as they do wildlife with less developed digestive systems (“An albatross chick eats 17 water bottle caps, 3 bic lighters and a matchbox [is] There’s going to be an intestinal block and they’re going to die”), it’s going to get worse. “We can only eat 11 to 15 microfibers per oyster,” she says. “Well, in 20 years, maybe It’s going to be 150 microfibers per oyster. See where I’m going with this?”
And if it deteriorates, it will most likely harm future generations. For his young students, Huward’s lab provides sculpting, so that they can see the fibers with their own eyes under a microscope. “They can’t start solving them until they have some appreciation for what they really are,” she says. “I think direct experience is working for them.”
For the rest of us, especially in times of high inflation, the push to wash cold can be a cost consideration. Tide estimates that switching from the hot to cold cycle could drop energy bills by up to 90%, enough to power an American home for more than an hour; Washing cold also can save up to $150 a year. The goal, Tide says, is to make cold wash as ubiquitous as turning off the lights when you leave a room. (Though there’s still a lot of work to be done. Only about 6 out of 10 of us Turn off the lights regularly.)
Tune in next week for our recap of the season—and our standout highlights.