The Environmental Cost of Single-use Cleaning Supplies – Are they Worth the Convenience?

In a world full of infinite cleaning products lined up, ready and waiting on store shelves, we are offered a colorful and scented plethora of multiple choices. Careful though, making a decision before you choose what to clean your floor with, because like a multiple-choice test, there may be more than one right answer to the question: “what will the environmental impact of my selection be?”

It is all too easy to oversimplify our decisions and choose based on a familiar brand name, easily recognizable logo, or fresh mountain scent, or completely by random if we are in a hurry to get out of the store. Perhaps more importantly, there is an oft-overlooked aspect of shopping – buying with environmental impact in mind. And this is often hard to match with popular brand names, let alone with random picking.

When we are looking solely at the amount of waste produced, disposables take the lead, always. And when single-use products are non-recyclable, environmental concerns really begin to arise. For the sake of convenience, let’s take a closer look at Swiffer.

With multiple kinds of mops, Swiffer is a popular brand, known for its sleek design that allows it to sweep, mop and dust all in one go, at the very least it promises you a clean floor. The Swiffer pads are one time use only, and at an approximate cost of $7 for a box of 16 dry refills and $18 for a box of 24 wet refills, you can see how to spend your money quickly for the sake of a clean floor. If you are counting your chemicals, the Swiffer Wet Jet solution is said to be a combination of purified water, ethyl alcohol, Polypropylene Glycol N-Butyl Ether, Alkyl Polyglucoside, Didecyl Dimethyl Ammonium Chloride, Chlorhexidine Diacetate, Fragrance, Silicone Emulsion and Polyethyleneimine. Big words, and perhaps nothing seriously dangerous to your health or the environment when used properly, but are they necessary when something simpler and environmentally friendly will do?

When things are convenient, we tend to value them less for what they do, and more for how quickly they can get the job done. Since we cannot determine exactly how many one-time use pads are filling up landfills, it is hard to know what kind of environmental damage we are causing with single-use products of any kind, we can only imagine the amount of waste based on sales worldwide. On a more practical level, if it is dust you want to attract (and get rid of), forget the bucket of hot water altogether and reach for a microfiber mop with a spray bottle of eco-friendly cleaner instead. Not only is it convenient, it is easy to use and reusable.

Think about it, every time you toss something in the trash, potentially you are throwing away an item of value. Cleaning supplies such as rags and mop heads that can be washed and reused, eventually downcycled, are infinitely better for the environment.

A disposable world does not equal a sustainable future. So, let us all be mindful of the amount of waste we buy when convenience is the driving factor. It is not only the chemicals we purchase, but the types of packaging they are in, that is of concern. If we cannot recycle or reuse what industry creates, then, seemingly, we will have to be satisfied with these inferior products, in the long run harming not only the environment, but ourselves. Or is it really the case that we are so helplessly limited in our options?

Fortunately not: once again, right when it’s needed the most, human ingenuity comes to the rescue and new products with better design and meaningful purpose are continually popping up on the market.

What can we use instead of disposable cleaning products? For starters, we can choose quality over quantity. Go ahead and buy that more expensive vacuum cleaner with HEPA filter that will last for years to come. Bonus points if it can be repaired. Choose a durable microfiber mop with reusable mop heads which cleans better, with more efficiency than a cheap alternative with expensive recurring costs. Forgo the single-use antibacterial wet wipes made with polyester fabric and make your own with reusable rags and essential oils. Convenience comes with a cost, whether we are talking cleaning supplies or fast fashion. It is up to the individual’s conscience to decide what kind of future they wish to see.