This fantastic article featured in the October edition of Nova magazine written by local Tasmanian writer Natalie Geard. Great information on how to choose a truly green cleaning product.
HOW GREEN IS YOUR CLEAN?
By Natalie Geard
The choices we make everyday have a profound effect on our lives. What we eat, what we purchase and what we use in our home all have implications and effects.
In today’s environmentally conscious society most of us genuinely want to do our bit for the greater good – our own health and that of the environment.
Importantly, the value of leading healthier and more sustainable lives has become a significant focus for Australians with a momentous
shift towards more natural and environmentally responsible choices and practices.
One of the major impacts on our living environment is how we clean.
Cleaning products are used everywhere in your home.
We eat, bathe, lie and come into contact with all sorts of surfaces we clean not to mention the air we breathe and the water we drink.
So it makes sense to be informed about what cleaning products you use everyday and the effects on your health and living environment.
Laundry powders, oven cleaners, surface cleaners, bathroom sprays and detergents. We all use them in efforts to maintain, clean and upkeep our house. But when was the last time you actually looked at what you were using and spraying around your home?
In the past we have thought little of eating straight off surfaces we have wiped with chemicals or washing our clothes with products that have harmful side effects such as skin irritations and omit pollutants into local waterways.
A focus of Australian cleaning culture has been towards achieving white and bright results and we have been inundated with chemical-based cleaning methods and products along the way.
Thankfully, the array of greener and more environmentally responsible products on the market today has increased dramatically via a number of sources – those seeking to actually be more environmentally responsible through the provision of less harmful products and those looking to benefit from our conscience of buying green.
The challenge is to be able to differentiate the products that are really better for us and the environment and those that are just claiming to do so.
But this is no easy feat – we are bombarded with messages, slogans and claims to be ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly or responsible’ and ‘safe’ to influence our purchasing decisions. For the average consumer it can be bamboozling and confusing.
So how can you make smarter environmentally responsible cleaning choices and ensure you really are cleaning green?
Why clean green?
Why not? Apart from obvious health reasons there are substantial environmental concerns and consequences from using chemical-based cleaners.
Most cleaning products eventually contact the air, water and soil and chemicals can cause significant and irreparable damage to animals, plants, drinking water and food supplies.
The use of chemicals is not necessary when we have natural alternatives available that provide us with efficient cleaning and sanitising qualities we need for a fresh and sparkling clean.
The popularity in the post-war 50s was towards chemicals that delivered the cleaner, whiter and brighter phenomenon – just look at the ads from this era to reflect this movement. Fortunately, the trend is now heading back towards the long-lasting combination of ingredients such as bicarbonate soda, vinegar and essential oils that can deliver the same cleaning performance and qualities as chemical based cleaners without the harmful side effects.
There are also long held perceptions by people that it costs more to buy green.
Green and more natural cleaners are reasonably priced in comparison to chemical-based cleaners available on the market today and in fact, usage shows you actually need less volume of the traditional ingredients to clean due to their stronger cleaning capabilities!
By choosing to clean green you can limit the amount of chemicals spilled into local waterways and reduce the harmful effects to both your health and the environment.
Simple tips to clean green.
Consumers are confronted with all sorts of claims about green cleaning products.
Statements such as ‘natural’, ‘safe’, ‘biodegradable’ and ‘environmentally responsible’ are a few of the more common terms used. But how many cleaning products actually meet these claims?
Adding to the confusion, in Australia there is currently no standard governance or accreditation for ‘environmentally responsible’ manufacturing and production of cleaning products meaning disclosure of ingredient lists and packaging can sometimes deliver misleading information about products on offer.
So what you may think you are using may actually not be that eco-friendly after all!
Here are some simple tips to help you make smarter choices:
1. The important ingredient list
The most accurate way to tell if you are using environmentally friendly products is to read the label and importantly, the ingredient list to ensure the product is in fact what it is claiming to be!
The problem is that most consumers are left confused with ingredients they cannot understand or ingredients that are not familiar with.
Best advice is that the ingredient list should be simple, short and basic meaning no hidden nasties!
The other rule of thumb is - if you don’t know what the ingredient is or if it is not easy to understand there is a fair chance it is not good for you or natural.
It is hard to avoid all chemicals so below we have listed the major offenders:
§ Phosphates – most commonly found in laundry powders and are damaging to our waterways and harmful to marine life.
§ Sodium laureth sulfate/sodium laurel Sulfate (SLS) – foaming and thickening agent. SLSs alter the skin’s structure allowing other chemicals to penetrate the skin’s barriers increasing the amount of chemicals that reach the bloodstream. It’s also a frequent cause of contact dermatitis.
§ Triclosan – antibacterial products most commonly have this pesticide which can negatively impact long-term health including reproductive systems.
§ Palm oil – has many disguises in cleaning products including plant based surfactant (from palm), plant derived cleaning agent (from palm), vegetable glycerin, sodium laureth sulfate, cetearyl alcohol and cetyl palmitate just to name a few. Its use has devastating impacts on the natural environment and habitat of the orangutans in South East Asia.
2. Broaden your range of choice
Let’s face it – we are a trustworthy bunch when it comes to the products and chemicals we use everyday when often they contain chemicals and toxic substances that are harmful to our health.
It is common practice for chemical-based cleaning products to list ingredients under scientific names and descriptors making it difficult for consumers to easily identify and understand.
The first step towards greener cleaning is to actually start considering purchase alternatives and choices.
Question and evaluate claims made by a range of products rather than instinctively reaching for the one that may look (green marketing at its best) the most environmentally friendly.
We are very much creatures of habit so looking at what is in the household cleaning cupboard is a great place to start. How does this compare to other products on the market and is there a better alternative?
The best mantra to take is to question everything and take time to find out – you may be shocked at what you are contributing to!
3. Read labels closely
When was the last time you actually read a label properly?
Have a closer look next time and consider what the product is communicating and the wording used to promote it.
If it is natural it should be able to state quite clearly that it has no chemicals, toxins or fillers. It should also be suitable for grey-water use and preferably the packaging should be recyclable.
The latest in green technology has also witnessed the emergence of plant based surfactants and whilst these are a great alternative to petroleum-based cleaners they are not as green as the marketing of these products may suggest.
Furthermore, environmental statements can range from ‘reduced chemicals’ to ‘no chemicals’ (obvious difference) so it will soon be evident which one may be attempting to greenwash your decision!
4. Be a smarter shopper
Chances are you probably won’t find the best green options in your local major supermarket. Try local specialty stores known for their commitment to more natural choices or shop online to find the products that meet your new stringent criteria.
Aim to buy Australian made and owned. Supporting local producers and manufacturers has a two prong effect – it benefits local businesses and ensures the transportation and additional environmental impacts are kept to a minimum.
The good news for all Australians is that there is a great range of natural and environmentally responsible household cleaners available.
In addition, the more you read and understand the products you use the more empowering your purchase decisions become.
Whilst we cannot expect to get every choice right, it quickly becomes apparent that within every purchase decision there is a less harmful and more environmentally responsible option that contributes towards a healthier, safer and more socially conscious path.
It is merely about taking the time to consider our purchase decisions for the greater good of ourselves and our planet.
Quick five tips for cleaning green:
- Examine the ingredient list – educate yourself.
- Read labels closely – be aware of product claims
- Avoid palm oil
- Broaden your range of choice – look beyond current usage
- Buy Australian owned and made