The products being analyzed in this post all focus around the idea of cleaning. Cleaning products are well known to often contain toxic attributes. So, are green products worth they hype? Let’s see…
Cleaning products are used everywhere from the kitchen to your work desk to your shower, most everything humans come across, especially indoors, has to be cleaned somehow. Since humans are exposed to these spaces so frequently, it is important that the products that are used to clean them are safe. Many environmentally friendly cleaning products offer alternatives to conventional ones that work to obliterate everything in their dirty path, disregarding the negative affects on the things that are not so dirty.
In a general sense, green cleaning products are said to be better for you and the environment because they commonly are marketed as either non-toxic, biodegradable, and/or made from renewable resources.
According to this link from treehugger.com, Five billion pounds of chemicals are used in the institutional cleaning industry per year, and there are around 63 synthetic chemical products found in the average American home, mostly from cleaning products. This translates into around ten gallons of harmful chemicals. Also, a janitor uses 23 gallons of chemicals on average per year, 25 percent of which are hazardous.
Watch out for false marketing…
Regular cleaners often use terms like “antibacterial” and “antimicrobial.” These terms are eye catching, and cause people to think that such qualities are necessary to make sure their spaces are as clean as they can possibly be. However, these characteristics are not necessary on a regular basis. If overused, you could be creating adverse affects in an attempt to clean your space by risking the creation of “super germs.” When cleaners like this are used in areas, but do not kill every germ around, then the left over germs build up a tolerance and resistance to the cleaners through natural selection, thus breeding a “super germ.” This leaves you with a bigger and dirtier problem then you had before.
Green cleaners can have misleading terms as well.
Review this guide for a complete list of such terms. I will indicate below some common terms indicated in this list.
Biodegradable: ““Biodegradable” ingredients break down in the environment once they enter wastewater treatment plants, rivers and streams or landfills. Cleaning supply manufacturers often advertise their products as biodegradable to make them seem safer or greener than they really are. However, because no one regulates the use of this term on cleaning product labels, you cannot assume that a product with the label is better than another product.” Biodegradable ingredients also have different speeds of biodegradability. Some linger in the environment for years, while others start to break down right away, which is something to look out for when choosing green products as a whole.
Green Seal/EcoLogo: “Green Seal and EcoLogo are organizations that provide independent, third party certification of environmentally friendly cleaners and authorize approved products to bear their seals of approval.” Both programs limit certain toxic chemicals to be used in their products.
Fragrance Free and Clear of Perfumes and Dyes: Many cleaning companies market their products to have no added scent. Added scents often provoke allergic reactions and asthmatic flare-ups.
Natural/Plant-based: “On a cleaning product, the word “natural” can mean anything or nothing at all – there is no regulation of the word’s use. Some manufacturers use the term to mean that some or all of the ingredients come from plants or minerals rather than petroleum, but they rarely disclose how much or little of those ingredients is present. The term “natural” can mislead consumers to think that a product is safer or more environmentally friendly than it actually is.“
Non-toxic: Term that implies that ingredients or products used will not harm he health of humans or the environment. However, there is no standard definition in the cleaning industry.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health research and advocacy organization. The EWG’s mission is “to use the power of information to protect human health and the environment. EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning gives you practical solutions to protect yourself and your family from everyday exposures to potentially harmful chemicals.” This website shows the EWG’s 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning. They review mainstream cleaners as well as ones marketed to be environmentally friendly. The guide helps you find green cleaners for your household needs and gauges many important factors one should consider when choosing such products including asthma/respiratory irritants, skin allergies, developmental and reproductive toxicity, cancer, and environmental factors. The guide also gives a letter grade (A, B, C,…etc) to the product’s ingredients in regards to its health, environment, and disclosure concerns. The products reviewed include air fresheners, all purpose cleansers, bathroom cleaners, dishwashing soaps, floor care, furniture cleaners, kitchen cleaners, and laundry detergents. The EWG evaluates green and conventional cleaners ranging from general purpose, kitchen, to bathroom, etc.
Here I have taken screenshots of two different bathroom cleaners, and how they are analyzed on the EWG’s guide.
You can see the different factors evaluated and the amount of human and environmental concern it carries and the grades they received relating to the product’s ingredients.
More facts on green cleaners
According to this website from organicconsumers.org,
“In 2000, cleaning products were responsible for nearly 10% of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, accounting for 206,636 calls. Of these, 120,434 exposures involved children under six, who can swallow or spill cleaners stored or left open inside the home.”
In regards to the environment, many cleaning liquids disappear down our drains, and infiltrate sewage and wastewater. This then gets discharged into nearby waterways, which threatens the water quality and the biodiversity within that water. “In a May 2002 study of contaminants in stream water samples across the country, the U.S. Geological Survey found persistent detergent metabolites in 69% of streams tested. Sixty-six percent contained disinfectants.”
Another important water pollutant that is widely used in laundry detergents and other cleaners is phosphates. These are water softening mineral additives that infiltrate waterways and acts as a fertilizer. This spawns algal bloom in water bodies, and an overabundance of aquatic plant life. This depletes the water’s oxygen supply, thus killing off fish and other organisms, a process called eutrophication.
Also, the usage of petroleum-based chemicals in cleaners is an environmental concern. This contributes to the depletion of this non-renewable resource and increases the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
The packaging of such products is an issue too. The plastic bottles used to package cleaning products contribute to the amount of solid waste in landfills, and contribute to the amount of goods not recycled. Many cleaners are bottled in high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which can be recycled.
Do green cleaners really clean?
These green products often collide with societal and cultural concepts of cleanliness. Many people have a hard purchasing and using green cleaners because they feel that they really do not get their materials as clean s conventional products. An article from nytimes.com discusses the valid mental blocks people have when it comes to using green products. A woman featured in the article stated,
“My dishes were dirtier than before they were washed,” one wrote last week in the review section of the Web site for the Cascade line of dishwasher detergents. “It was horrible, and I won’t buy it again.”
The article discuses how “Phosphorus in the form of phosphates suspends particles so they do not stick to dishes and softens water to allow suds to form.” However, that same water-softening agent causes major ecological and environmental concerns. The article discusses how these products often cost more for a less visible outcome. It is hard for consumers to feel satisfied and okay with paying more for a product when they do not see immediate benefits.
“Low-phosphate dish detergents are a waste of my money,” said Thena Reynolds, a 55-year-old homemaker from Van Zandt County, Tex., who said she ran her dishwasher twice a day for a family of five. Now she has to do a quick wash of the dishes before she puts them in the dishwasher to make sure they come out clean, she said. “If I’m using more water and detergent, is that saving anything?” Ms. Reynolds said. “There has to be a happy medium somewhere.”
Overall, you have to choose what the right type of cleaner is for you. You have to find the happy medium between your values, whether that be extreme cleanliness or prevention of environmental degradation. My conclusion is that the health benefits and the environmental benefits combined in green products is worth the use in the long run. Cleaning is a necessity for sanitation, hygiene, etc., nevertheless, the products you use should not hurt the earth in the process. The extra costs of the products and the extra cleaning power you might have to exert are worth not risking your exposure to endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and asthma triggering agents, and more harmful side effects. I feel that you clean to keep your environment healthy, so the products you use to do so should keep you healthy too.
If green cleaning is for you…
I found a few websites that show you what to look for in the process of purchasing such products:
“How to Go Green: Cleaning.” TreeHugger. Treehugger.com, 30 Jan. 2007. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://www.treehugger.com/htgg/how-to-go-green-cleaning.html>.
“Decoding the Labels.” EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. http://Www.ewg.org, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/content/decoding_labels>.
EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners>.
“How Toxic Are Your Household Cleaning Supplies?” Organicconsumers.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_279.cfm>.
NAVARRO, MIREYA. “Cleaner for the Environment, Not for the Dishes.”Nytimes.com. New York Times, 18 Sept. 2010. Web. 10 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/science/earth/19clean.html?_r=1&>.
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