People will soon be able to wash their clothes using a cleaning product derived from algae, a more sustainable source than the palm oil that is currently used in most detergents.
Ecover, the green cleaning company, will launch the algae-based laundry liquid in Europe later in 2014, as part of its pledge to ultimately replace all palm oil.
Palm oil is widely used in both cleaning products and food but has been linked to deforestation, as rainforest and peatlands are cleared for palm plantations, particularly in south east Asia. The destruction drives up carbon emissions and harms biodiversity, including orangutans.
“Through our research into palm oil replacements, we discovered that algae are capable of producing one of the purest and cleanest oils available,” said Dirk Develter, Ecover’s Head of Research and Development. “Algal oils have a much smaller ecological footprint than most tropical oils, such as palm oil, making them ideal for home products, where tropical oils are widely used.”
Professor Wim Soetaert, heads of the Industrial Biotechnology Centre at the University of Ghent and not involved in the research, welcomed the move. “To achieve global sustainability, all industries must comply with no exceptions. With this new development, the household cleaning industry is now making a clear step forward,” he said.
At the start, 7% of the oil ingredients in the laundry liquid will come from algae, Ecover said, with the intention of raising that proportion as more is learned about its use. The first algal oil oil will be produced in Brazil from sugarcane, which is an efficient feedstock with a relatively low carbon and water footprint.
Ecover said it would be producing algal oils close to its Belgian factory in three years and was examining different feedstocks, including agricultural and forest waste, to identify which was the most sustainable feedstock of those locally available.
Ecover is also researching the use of bacteria to convert organic material into useful chemicals and, in 2013, the company committed to using plastic waste retrieved from the sea to create sustainable and recyclable plastic bottles.
Quentin Clark, head of sustainability at Waitrose said: “Ecover should be applauded for its innovation in this area because of the potential for algal oil to be used as a complete replacement for palm oil. We always aim to help our customers ‘tread lightly’ on the environment and using algae to produce oil seems like a really great way to do that.”