Saving the Planet from the Laundry Room

Or the art of sustainable clothes washing

There are so many inter-woven consequences to the way I live my life. Just one task that I carry out each and every week could have repeated harmful effects on the environment without me realising it. I discovered that washing my clothes is one such task.

This blog from local resident Terry Over looks at the environmental impact of this everyday task, and the simple changes we can make to have clean washing that doesn’t cost the earth.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that each UK household carries out 260 laundry wash loads per year on average. Nearly all of them, some 7 billion wash loads, use a washing machine. The washing machine is an amazing labour-saving device that changed our households dramatically but there are a variety of things that need to combine for each load of successful laundry washing.

The Issues

Firstly there is the electricity required to operate the washing machine, then there is the water for the clothes to wash in, the energy to heat the water, the detergent to remove the dirt and finally the draining of the waste water and its contents. Well, not quite finally because here in the UK, 58% of households have a tumble drier which needs electricity to dry that washing.

Just like modern life in general, there are so many choices to make when loading a washing machine!

Just like modern life in general there are so many settings choices to make when loading a washing machine – temperature, fabric, spin speed, time and other options – and depending on our choice the environmental consequence can vary tremendously. 

  • Clean water use could be 60 litres per wash load which is 15,600 litres per year and approximately £50 worth of our household water bill. Water is a precious resource and requires energy to pump it to our homes which affect its carbon footprint.
  • Electricity use on average in the UK is 0.6 kWh per wash which is 156 kWh/year and approximately £25 worth of our utility bill. The UK electricity grid is still circa 50% reliant on fossil fuel.
  • Detergent is generally overused and a quick investigation of the ingredients in our laundry detergents will reveal that it is not the most environmentally friendly of products that we are releasing into our rivers and seas. Waste water treatment plants will filter some but not all synthetic chemicals and endocrine disruptors are a real issue for our marine biodiversity.  

“Each of us can make a difference just by changing how we do that one chore – that we repeat 260 times every year”

  • Some washes can be carried out at 20 degree C whilst some manufacturers have a 90 degree C wash. The higher the temperature the more electricity is required.
  • The 60 litres of waste water will cost us approximately another £50 per year and use water treatment plant energy, but of more concern is that it deposits vast quantities of plastic microfibres in our seas and rivers; plastic that will be around for ever and get consumed by sea life that will work its way up the food chain until more and more of us will be eating plastic.

But the great thing is that each of us can make a difference by just changing how we do that one chore that we currently do 260 times per year.

 The solutions

  • The best solution is simply to do less washes
  • Wear clothes more times before putting them in the wash.
  • Hang worn clothes to simply “air” rather than put them in the washing basket.
  • “Spot wash” instead of machine wash items that have small smudges rather than general dirt.
  • Only do full load washes.


  • Wash on the lowest temperature possible as heating the water is the most energy-intensive part of the process. Using 20°C instead of 40°C could reduce running costs by 62%. Most washing powders and liquids are designed to be effective at low temperatures. In this current Covid19 situation households may want to consider the likelihood of clothing needing to be washed at 60°C.

Ensure your electricity tariff is 100% green

  • Use the shortest cycle. Shorter cycles use less water and less energy. The added bonus is that a short cycle causes less damage to your clothes over time so helps them last longer.
  • Ensure your electricity tariff is a 100% green tariff meaning all your electricity use is from a renewable energy source.
  • Switch from using everyday brands of laundry products to environmentally friendly detergent that contain ingredients that do not harm the environment, through their production or disposal. You can find a guide here.

In our household we have stopped using laundry powder, liquid or tablets altogether. We stopped using fabric conditioner. We stopped using stain remover. We investigated using more eco-friendly liquids from SESI or Ecoleaf but in the end we started using Soapnuts. (Soapnuts or Soapberries are dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap called saponin, which is released when they come into contact with water). So, the key is saponins.

“It may sound strange but it works; our clothes are just as clean as before, but with no synthetic chemicals used”

But soapnuts have to be transported from India and our western desire could cause supply issues there, so now we use conkers (with a few drops of pure essential oils).

Yes, the glossy brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree, collected in bulk in the autumn, brown skins removed, white seed diced in to small pieces, dried for storage and re-hydrated for laundry liquid to enable low temperature washing when we need some. It may sound strange but it works; our clothes are now just as clean as before, but we know no damaging synthetic chemicals have been used.

Water Use

Reduce your water waste by recycling it on to the garden. In the summer we collect the grey wastewater and use it to water the garden. The fact that our water now contains hardly any harmful synthetic chemicals means it is a perfect use of 60 litres of water each wash, especially as climate change means our summers will get drier. 

Currently we just temporarily remove the flexible outflow waste water pipe at the back of the washing machine from the outlet and place it in to buckets and watering cans but long term we may install a diverter valve to make it easier.


  • The hardest issue to address are the plastic microfibres that are in the wastewater, but solutions do exist:
  • Buy less synthetic fibre clothes (polyester, acrylic, nylon) and more organic fibre clothes (wool, organic cotton, linen, silk).
  • Install a microfibre filter to the washing machine outlet pipe.
  • Use other forms of microfibre capture such as Coraball or GuppyFriend.
  • And finally, if possible, use the tumble drier less as this will save on energy use and damage to the clothes thereby reducing microfibre loss in the next wash.

Washing Machine Energy Rating

When purchasing a new washing machine aim for the highest standard possible i.e. A+++ energy rating for improved efficiency, the best in-built microfibre filter possible and good water efficiency usage. 

But if you are not intending to buy a new washing machine – and it is best to make our appliances last as long as possible, with repair if necessary – then I encourage you to adopt all or a selection of the above tips to address the inter woven consequence that the weekly, or quintuple weekly, wash will place on the environment. Your next washday will be even more rewarding!

Office of National Statistics – volume of UK household laundry

  National Grid – renewable versus fossil fuel electricity

Marine drugs – endocrine disruption

Clothes washing and ocean plastic pollution

Washing machine temperature guide

Which magazine – Normal versus Quick wash testing

  What are soapnuts and how to use them

How to use conkers to wash your clothes

7 ways to reduce microfibre pollution

Microfibre filter by Lint

Types of Microfiber Filters To Help Stop Microplastic Pollution

Ethical Consumer – laundry detergents guide

Fruit, Veg & Wildlife in a Smaller Garden

Our garden is not very big, and we have three different priorities for it: fruit and veg growing; wildlife; somewhere to sit and entertain. So, we’ve had to be creative with space.

To highlight 2021 Open Food Gardens summer programme this blog is about growing food at home by local gardeners, Nigel Harvey and Clare Hobba. They paint a picture of what food is possible to grow in a small garden when approached with a love of nature and a desire to #GrowYourOwn.  

Re-imagining the front garden #growyourown

For most people, a front garden is an area that we keep neat for the sake of others, but don’t get much benefit from. 

We use our front garden for growing fruit and veg

However, we use our front garden for growing fruit and veg at home.  Paths and low walls add structure, so it doesn’t look untidy. Bright flowers and shrubs grow round the edge and attract insects.    

Artichokes, gooseberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and whitecurrants grow on one side; kale (curly, and black), beetroot, garlic and courgettes on the other. Not to mention dwarf versions of pear, apple and plum trees.  We kept a small cotoneaster tree which was in the garden before we arrived and it provides nectar for bees in summer and berries for redwing in winter.  All of that, just in the front!

“to save space we like anything that climbs upwards”

Gardening at the back

At the back, another patch yields kohl rabi, French beans, lettuce and chard.  In the little greenhouse, Nigel grows chilli and bell peppers, aubergines, cucumbers and three varieties of tomatoes, On the patio we also have physalis and cucamelons.  Patio pots also hold a great variety of culinary herbs.  

Vertical Growing

To save space, we like anything that climbs upwards and are experimenting with ivy gourd, tayberry and even a kiwi fruit vine. 

Watering, compost and fertilising

The plants are watered mostly from four large water butts which collect rain from the roof.  We make compost in a bin tucked behind the greenhouse and supplement it with llama poo from a local farm.

Gardening for nature

“the small pond attracts newts and frogs”

Insects are attracted by profusely flowering plants such as the hot-lips salvia. Bug and bee hotels offer them the chance to stay and to hibernate. Similarly, the small pond attracts newts and frogs. Nearby a pile of old wood and tiles gives them somewhere to over-winter.  All manner of birds arrive for the birdbath and squirrel-proofed feeders.  And we still have enough space for some seating from which to watch them!

Clare Hobba

Bug Hotel at the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust Wild Garden in St Albans

Want to know more?

How to Build a Bug Hotel

Pollinator Plants for insects

Recycled Wood for Garden Projects in St Albans

Vertical Veg Growing

Open Food Gardens Summer Programme 2021

Want to visit more food gardens?  Sustainable St Albans runs a summer programme of Open Food Gardens. It is like Open Gardens but with food growing too! These aren’t perfect show gardens, they are real gardens, owned and shared by real people, all of whom share a love of growing their own fruit and veg.  You can drop in for ten minutes or stay for two hours.  Find the dates of this year’s open gardens plus a range of videos on our website.

See the 2020 video tour of this garden below – but why not visit it on Sunday 20 June to see how it’s doing for this year – and talk to the gardeners yourself.

Open Food Gardens programme 2021

Causing A Splash to Save the River Ver

Now that IS excessive water use! This incredible 10,000 litre bathtub will be in the town centre on Thursday 27th and Friday 28th May 2021 during #SustFest21. It is all part of Affinity Water’s new movement SOS: Save Our Streams, calling on people in St Alban’s to waste less water to save our streams.

Affinity Water writes about their latest campaign to encourage local residents to #savewater and #SaveOurStreams #RiverVer

In October last year, Affinity Water ran pilot scheme ‘Save 10 a Day’ in St Albans and District to address the issue, which saw residents saving more than 700,000 litres of water a day. New movement SOS: Save Our Streams builds on this success and is asking us all once again to do all we can to save our beautiful local chalk streams.

Large bathtub with Save Our Streams written on the side.
The bathtub is 125 times larger than your average tub.

Coined ‘Britain’s Great Barrier Reef’, chalk streams like the River Ver boast clear water from underground springs, and are more endangered than both the Bengal tiger and black rhino. In St Alban’s we’re using 6% more water than the national average, putting these iconic natural gems at risk.

While you’re marvelling at a bathtub 125 times bigger than your average tub, make sure to speak to Affinity Water’s team. They’ll be able to support you to make simple changes at home to waste less water through the new website  

After answering a few questions about how you use water, provides you with your exact household water usage stats, a free water-saving kit and tailored advice. You can also view footage of Sandi Toksvig performing stand-up comedy live from the River Chess in an exclusive performance for the campaign.

If you take a selfie with the bath, don’t forget to tag @AffinityWater in in your pictures!

Chemicals Down The Drain

Chemicals Down The Drain – easy swaps that help nature and health

I remember a light bulb moment a few years ago when my children were younger; “Keep out of reach of children” was the warning on the laundry detergent. So, if it is not great for our children, why are we using it to wash their clothes and then sending the rinsed water down the drain to the rivers and the sea? 

“This guest blog has been written by local resident Terry Over, who is a keen amateur passionately interested in climate change mitigation. Terry has travelled the “more sustainable” journey for several years now, and enjoys researching across the whole spectrum of sustainability issues.

I remembered being challenged by my ignorance; for decades we had simply washed our clothes without consciously thinking about the ethics of the process. I set aside an hour and internet searched. It was definitely time well spent, a revelation even, and set me off on a journey of completely changing our habits with regards to the use of all synthetic chemicals in our home.

The more I researched the better I understood that:

•    When we wash an unwanted substance down our drains it does not mean that it goes “away”; it just goes somewhere else. 

•    When chemicals are poured down the drain, they enter the waste water system, which usually filters into a local wastewater treatment plant. However, these chemicals persist through the water treatment process and end up discharged from the water treatment works back into rivers, seas and ground water. 

•    We may think these chemicals are diluted and spread throughout such a huge body of water and think they will not cause any harm. However, we need to remember that everyone else is doing the same. Our washing capsule will have “bioaccumulated” over time as billions of people around the world pollute our watercourses every day. 

..billions of people around the world pollute our watercourses every day.

•    These chemicals, and the cocktail of mixed chemicals, can cause disruption to the endocrine systems in the biodiverse life in our waters including tiny creatures such as microbials and fish. This can lead to reproductive and behavioural disorders, a compromised immune system, neurological problems, and even cancer in marine life with growing evidence suggesting in humans too.

•    As other animals consume water borne creatures that are poisoned with these chemicals, they bioaccumulate up the food chain and increase in toxicity. This can damage an entire ecosystem, and if humans eat these fish directly then there may be consequences for us as well.

Check out the Ingredients

I decided to check out all the ingredients written on the back of a laundry detergent bottle:

  • How are they made?
  • Where do they come from?
  • What harm could they have on the environment?
  • What harm can they have on me?

Once again it was eye opening and I challenge you to do the same research on the ingredients of just one household cleaning product that you use. For example just internet search “What are the effects of sodium lauryl sulphate?” and cross check a few scientific and blog based websites to get a general understanding.

We understood we had been enslaved for years to the advertising, marketing and synthetic aromas of our favourite brands..

One by one we ceased to use, or replaced, each product with a natural organic or more sustainable alternative. It took time.

So, we decided to try and stop putting synthetic chemicals down the drain ever! One by one we ceased to use or replaced each product we used with a natural organic or more sustainable alternative. It took time. We understood we had been enslaved for years to the advertising, marketing and synthetic aromas of our favourite brands so there needed to be an acceptance of “different” in all replacements but we persevered and I am pleased to confess that all swaps have been successful swaps. This is what we did:

Successful Swaps


  1. Washing up liquid – we replaced our supermarket brand with an eco-friendly version SESI we buy from The Refill Pantry – in our own ex-supermarket containers – not perfect but getting closer. It may not lather or smell as much but persist for a while and you will appreciate that everything is just as clean.
  2. Dishwasher tablets – we replaced with bicarbonate of soda plus a couple drops of washing up liquid. We have had no issues with scale but if the dishes are left a long time before cleansing there can be occasional food stains so a compromise may be to use a natural dishwasher tablet every third wash or so.


  1. Hand soap
  • We have replaced all liquid pump soap with an eco-friendly version from Eco Leaf
  • And all soap bars with bars from Friendly Soap. Check out their “Our Story” page.
  1. Shampoo  
  • A bit of a mix, for some in the household have replaced shampoo in a bottle with eco-friendly shampoo bars 
  • Whilst others have opted for a liquid shampoo from Eco Leaf
  1. Hair conditioners – ditto shampoo above
  2. Body wash – ditto Hand soap above
  3. Shaving foam – replaced gel or spray foam with a shaving bar 
  4. Bath soak – Baths are a rarity in our drive for water conservation but when we do indulge gone is the aromatic coloured stuff and instead good old Epsom Salts soothes the aches and pains.
  5. Bubble bath – just gone.
  6. Bleach and Toilet cleaner – this was the first to go. If you want to be put off completely then researching the ingredients of bleach is pretty depressing. We have replaced it with a blend of bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar (circa 5%/95% ratio).
  7. Toothpaste – this is currently our stumbling block and we are yet to make the change so any advice would be appreciated.


  1. We stopped using laundry powder, liquid or tablets. We stopped using fabric conditioner. We stopped using stain remover. We investigated using more eco-friendly liquids from SESI or Ecoleaf but in the end we started using Soapnuts. (Soapnuts or Soapberries are actually dried fruit shells which contain real natural soap called saponin, which is released when they come into contact with water). So the key is saponins. 

But soapnuts have to be transported from India and our western desire could cause supply issues there, so now we use conkers (with a few drops of pure essential oils). Yes, the glossy brown seeds of the horse chestnut tree, collected in bulk in the autumn, brown skins removed, white seed diced in to small pieces, dried for storage and re-hydrated for laundry liquid to enable low temperature washing when we need some. 

  1. Exchanged shop bought stain remover with a range of ingredients that my grandma probably used.

It is great to think we are putting less harmful stuff down our drains and whilst we all have to decide our own views on what is and what is not acceptable to flush down our drains, I would encourage you to make a start and replace at least one harmful product with something more natural.  

The unexpected added bonus which I really appreciate is that gone are the scents of ammonia and unhealthy synthetic chemicals – of which I had grown accustomed to and no longer noticed – that pervaded throughout the house; they have been replaced by neutral or natural aromas and the ambience seems healthier for it. 

Another upside is much less plastic packaging with all its environmental harm.

After we had challenged ourselves on what chemicals we put down the drain next it was time to tackle all those other synthetic chemicals we clean our surfaces, air and garden with, but that story is for another day.

Marine Drugs – endocrine disruption

What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and is it safe?

Dangers of Laundry Detergent Ingredients

Ethical Product contents from Sesi

Ecoleaf at Suma

8 Reasons to Make the Switch to Solid Shampoo Bars

12 Natural Stain Remover Tips For All Your Laundry Woes

Can toilet paper ever be environmentally friendly?

According to the Confederation of Paper Industries, 1.3 million tonnes of tissue is used in the UK every year, with 1.1 million of it being imported into the UK.

How many trees does it take to make 1 ton of paper?

According to data from the Global Forest Resource Assessment roughly 80,000 to 160,000 trees are cut down each day around the world with a significant percentage being used in the paper industry. WWF in an article ‘Price of Toilet Paper for the planet’ say that the amount of wood harvested annually may need to triple by 2050 to meet projected global demands for all industries—including pulp and paper.

Why are Trees Good for the Planet?
Trees absorb CO2. They need it to grow. In return, they release oxygen which helps us breathe. Talk about a win-win scenario.

Only 30% of the world’s population uses toilet roll
Alex Crumbie researcher for Ethical Consumer which did research into ethical toilet paper in 2019 said: “Only around 30% of the world’s population uses toilet roll,” Crumbie added, “so we know that there are lots of perfectly hygienic alternatives to using paper-based products. It’s important we consider what we’re using to wipe our behinds with, because at the moment our precious planet is getting a bum deal.”

The Ethical Consumer report said that when buying toilet paper you should consider these questions:

  • Is it Recycled?
  • Is it made from recycled fibre
  • Is packaging recycled?

If it carries the label FSC Mix it will have been made using virgin wood pulp. There is no need to cut down forests to make toilet roll.

In 2005 Duncan Pollard, Head of WWF’s European Forest Programme said:

“Everyday about 270,000 trees are effectively flushed down the toilet or end up as garbage around the world, such a use of the forests is both wasteful and unnecessary.”

So, what are the alternatives?


Is it time for the bidet to make a comeback in the UK? The woman who started reusable period pants in the US invented the Tushy – an attachable bidet spray for the toilet. In the UK similar attachments to the toilet are sold as Japanese toilets – see a range here

While you may need to use a small amount of tissue paper to dry, you will use MUCH less paper.

Bamboo and Recycled toilet paper and tissues.

Bamboo is more sustainable because it grows much more quickly, it regenerates itself, and it doesn’t contribute to deforestation. Plus, it absorbs up to 35% more carbon than similar plants.

Bamboo toilet paper is becoming more mainstream, too, meaning you can shop around to find the best deal.

Who Gives a Crap

You can find recycled and bamboo toilet paper from  Who Gives A Crap (An Australian company so you have to consider the environmental issues of transporting it to other countries) .
They give half their profits to: non-profit organisations working to improve access to hygiene, water and basic sanitation in developing countries.

Cheeky Panda

Chinese grown organic bamboo – the company uses carbon offsetting to offset emissions used in manufacture and transport from China to Felixstowe by sea.
Cheeky Panda’s statement on carbon offsetting says: To offset the carbon used in the production and transportation of our bamboo tissue produce we work with the World Land Trust to fund planting forest on Vietnam which completely offsets all emissions.

Sainsbury Recycled Toilet Paper

This is  UK produced @FSC certified which means: When you see the FSC logo on a label, you can buy forest products with confidence that you are helping to ensure our forests are alive for generations to come.

 Waitrose ECOlogical Toilet Paper

‘Made entirely from recycled paper. Our recycled toilet tissues start with recycled magazines, packaging and office waste. The wastepaper is sorted and only the best quality materials delivered to a UK mill. Next the paper is washed with water and printed ink; plastic and staples are removed. The cleaned paper pulp is pressed, hot air dried and rolled into ‘reels’. Excess water is re-used within the factory. Finally, the paper ‘logs’ are cut into individual toilet rolls, and packed ready for delivery to our stores.’

 Ecoleaf Recycled Toilet Paper

This is widely available online– the company makes recycled toilet roll with compostable packaging. We cannot find any indication that this is a UK company (let us know if you know more?) : Ecoleaf appears to be based in Dubai but their sellers say the product is manufactured in the UK.

‘In 1986 we launched the UK’s first 100% Recycled Paper Toilet Tissue, since then we’ve continued to develop the range.  All ecoleaf paper products are made from 100% recycled fibre sourced exclusively within the UK. Manufactured from 60%+ post-consumer waste supply streams, collected by local authorities, kerb side collections and bona fide waste merchants. The remaining waste fibre is made up from UK manufacturers’ waste such as printers’ trim and greeting card manufacturers’ waste. No chlorine-based chemistry is used in the production process. Sourced and then manufactured in the UK, every effort is made to maximise loads and minimise road miles. Bleach free.’


Some people are using reusable washable cloth wipes – an option that doesn’t’ generate too much enthusiasm – but it is an eco option.

Wet Wipes

Please don’t unless there are medical reasons. These are mainly created with plastic. When biodegradable – they are no less wasteful than toilet paper.

 So, what’s the best alternative to toilet paper?

So, while it is still not clear which alternative is likely to become the UK’s ‘go-to’ option, it seems likely that you are better using recycled or bamboo paper, rather than paper direct from virgin trees. Absolutely don’t buy toilet paper with the words FSC Mix on it – this means it comes from virgin trees.

And, if you’re re-designing your bathroom – perhaps consider installing a bidet or bidet attachment to your toilet.

Meanwhile the world is going mad to plant more trees – perhaps we should also put some energy into reflecting why and how we continue to waste this precious resource.