While chatting away about eco-friendly moves
a couple weeks back, I touched briefly upon the topic of cleaning in eco-friendly ways, but I didn’t have the chance to really expand on it. There are a lot of reasons I didn’t get to talk further on it, one of them being that it is a lengthy topic and bears resemblance to the issues covered in the article “Natural vs. Organic
.” The reasons these two are so similar is that both types of products sometimes use words and phrases that there are really no regulations for. Cleaning products, in fact, even use the same marketing scheme as “all natural.”
But green cleaning labels have even more words to watch out for. For example, “non-toxic,” is one term that is as much of a gimmick as “all natural.” So how are you supposed to know which cleaning product is right with all of these words being spread throughout the cleaning product aisle? Well, 1-800-Recycling is here to help you sift through them.
What to avoid
How do you quantify toxicity, especially when toxic materials may take years to show any adverse effects? As an example, I thought I would bring up asbestos, as it is a material that I have some familiarity with. Although asbestos isn’t a cleaning supply, it is something that is quite common and well known to cause illnesses. It is most certainly deemed to be toxic. What’s important to note is that the only way asbestos was recognized as toxic was by looking at the rates of illnesses, such as asbestosis, in populations of people.
With all of the research that has been done up until now, so far there is no formula for what quantity of exposure to asbestos leads to what levels of the disease are present in someone. And even if that formula did exist, it is very hard to retrace your steps to know how and when you were exposed. The same tends to be true with most cleaning supplies and other materials that aren’t immediately harmful. This is where phrases like “non-toxic” begin to be too generalized and break down as any sort of meaningful claim. All a company needs is a shred of truth (or rumor) to be able to make us worry and convince us to buy a product that is going to solve the issue at hand. Because words like non-toxic aren’t truly measurable most of the time (or at least not enforced), it’s just another adjective printed on our bottles.
“Natural” labels on cleaning supplies are as unregulated as “natural” food labels. There is nothing more meaningless when it comes to cleaning supplies. While these labels may seem like a good idea to buy and appear to be more likely to be good for the environment than other options, don’t be fooled. “All natural” cleaning supplies may in fact be just as bad as the next one.
What to look for when buying cleaning supplies
Designed for the environment
Non-toxic and natural aren’t the only words that you’ll find on bottles/cans/jars of cleaning supplies. You might also see words and phrases that are more specific. Terms like biodegradable, plant-based, contains no chlorine, no dyes or fragrances, and more. How do you make sense of all of these? Much like food that is certified organic, the equivalent here is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Designed for the Environment (DfE) label. The reason I relate this to certified organic is that the DfE label takes the guesswork out of buying cleaning supplies that are safe for you and the environment. You can read more about the label on the EPA’s website
, but essentially this label promises to take into consideration everything from the life-cycle of a product to ensuring it is the safest option for the health of consumers.
What cleaning supplies are in my home?
This is the first question I asked myself when I wrote this article. So, with my new knowledge, I took to my own bathroom to scope out some of the cleaning supplies that my roommates have purchased to make our toilet and sink sparkle. What I found was not what I had hoped to find. None of the supplies I looked at were DfE. Not even one. I was astonished. These were supplies I’ve been using for years. Those smug little scrubbing bubbles always seemed to be so content with their performance. I even verified these were not DfE on the EPA’s site, which is designed for searching for DfE products
The reason this surprised me so much is due to the fact that these are very big brands, found in most grocery or drug stores across the country. One of the brands is even so prevalent its brand name has basically supplanted the actual product (think Kleenex and tissue), and is probably also the reason it was purchased. When I think of “Lysol,” my mind jumps right to some type of cleaning product. There’s no doubt in people’s minds of what you’re talking about when you say “I need Lysol.” They assume you need to clean something. Whereas if you said Stacy’s, you wouldn’t know I was talking about the Pita chips I happen to be snacking upon right now. In fact if I said “I am eating some Stacy’s,” people would probably be very afraid of me and stop reading my blog.
The takeaway here is much like anything else when it comes to becoming a more eco-friendly and environmentally conscious society. We need to support brands that are going to align well with the goals of creating environmentally sound products. Much like when you buy certified organic you are supporting brands that are interested in a process of creating food that is good for you and the environment, when you buy cleaning products that are DfE, you are buying brands that are similarly good for you and the environment. Do the world a favor, and write to your favorite brand to see if they will invest in creating DfE products. We’re looking at you Scrubbing Bubbles and Lysol.