Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Agaves will help you clean your house

Everybody knows tequila, and agave syrup has become a mainstream alternative to sugar or corn syrup-based sweeteners. Still, since agaves are my favorite plants, I’m always on the lookout for new ways this eminently useful plant might enrich my life.

Over the weekend I found myself in the cleaning products aisle at Costco. Not a place I often go, but I needed to buy scrub sponges. Usually I get the blue ones but these tan-and-brown ones with the neon green accents on the wrapper immediately caught my attention. Good color choice, Scotch Brite!

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What does this have to do with agaves, you might be wondering. Rightfully so.

Take a look at the back of the wrapper:

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The fibers in the scrubby part (the brown side of the sponge) are “made from 50% agave plant.” Weird grammar aside, this is exciting!

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I did a bit of digging on the Interwebs and came across a very interesting September 2013 article from the Minneapolis–St. Paul Star Tribune (3M, the owner of the Scotch Brite brand, is headquartered in a suburb of St. Paul, MN).

Apparently, 3M has taken a page out of the playbook of high-tech companies and allows many of its employees to use 15% of their work time for independent research. As her personal project, 3M scientist Myhanh Truong was researching sustainable materials that could be used as scouring agents. Her search led her to the humble agave. She traveled to Mexico where agaves are grown for tequila production. Before the “hearts” of the plant are harvested, the leaves are cut off and typically thrown away or burned. Truong learned that the fibers from the leaves are a great natural scouring agent—the indigenous people of Mexico have been using agaves for this and many other purposes since time immemorial.

After some initial hiccups, 3M found a way to mass-produce sheets of agave fabric. The first product to feature agave fibers is the Greener Clean scrub sponge I bought. Apparently it’s been a huge hit with younger shoppers who hadn’t been buying Scotch Brite’s traditional products.

Gayle Schueller, 3M vice president of global sustainability, declined to disclose sales, but said growth is “significant.”

The agave line “started as a bit of a lab curiously,” Schueller said. “But it ended up taking off much more quickly than we realized.”

More agave-based products include an “agave dish-scrubbing wand” and a “‘heavy duty’ agave scouring solution that can scratch hard, baked-on foods off pots and pans.” I haven’t seen either of these products personally but will look for them.

Now I have even more reasons to love agaves!

12 comments:

  1. My first thought was "what does a 50% agave plant look like?" I wonder how a grammatical error like that got through the marketing department? That aside, it is impressive. It's funny but I've wondered if there isn't also a marketable use for yucca fiber. The fibrous root husks of the Yucca elephantipes we took out at the bottom of our slope (at my husband's instigation) look just like loofah sponges to me when they dry out.

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    1. I bet yucca and hesperoyucca would work just as well. But since there's a neverending supply of agave leaves from tequila production, 3M's decision to go with agave makes sense.

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  2. I want! Not only because of the "50% agave plant" but because the natural colors are such a wonderful alternative to the usual annoying brights. We don't have a Costco membership but I'll be keeping my eyes open wherever I'm shopping!

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    1. Loree, if you can't find any locally (any supermarket should have them), let me know and I'll send you some. I did buy a 21-pack, as you can see :-)

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  3. I think I saw these the last time I was sponge shopping. My first thought when seeing "greener" products is "probably doesn't work as well", so I passed. Knowing that they're created from agave waste though, I may give them a try.

    For a super-heavy duty scrubber they should use just the leaf tips, all pointing the same direction. ;)

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    1. I assure you, the scrubby side works. In fact, when my wife picked up the sponge in the kitchen last night, she complained about how rough it felt :-).

      I do like your idea of a super-heavy duty scrubber. I wouldn't want to touch the business end of that!

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  4. Now I must give it a try. Thanks for this article.

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    1. Please do. It'll be just like scrubbing your kitchen with a real agave :-).

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  5. Awesome news! Thanks for the great article.

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    1. I was so excited to find these scrubbies, I had to share!

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  6. Awesome!! A must-have for agave lovers! (And I love the story behind the product.)

    @Kris: our native yuccas were very important to the indigenous Californians, who used Hesperoyucca whipplei, for example, for many things -- food, fiber, even sandals. Plants are so cool :~)

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    1. I bet you could use any fibrous succulent to a similar effect...

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