Monday, September 1, 2008
Cleanliness next to Godliness?
Greening up our cleaning products is something we've been putting off for far too long, aware that other churches have struggled with this, although we have habitually been using Ecover washing up liquid in the kitchen as well as recycled paper for the paper towels and toilet paper. A few weeks ago an Amway rep persuaded one of our ministers to try out his products, claiming that their Liquid Organic Cleaner (LOC) is 'green'. There was no obvious evidence for this claim on the bottles (aside from the fact that being concentrated meant less packaging was required), so I started investigating:
There was absolutely no reference on Amway's website to their products being green (just a lot about how much money they make!), so I googled them and found a Wikipedia site which referred to various controversies over their business ethics as well as a link to a site which did mention green credentials although it was rather vague.
So then I tried looking into the information we have on the product:
According to the National Geographic's green guide the term 'organic' is relatively meaningless when it comes to cleaners, unless it refers specifically to certain 'certified organic' ingredients
'Although "organic" in the grocery store refers to foods grown without synthetic pesticides, in chemistry it refers to chemicals that are carbon-based, including some VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that release harmful fumes and may cause brain damage or cancer'. (not that I'm suggesting this does, only that organic is not necessarily a positive description).
The main ingredient of Amway's LOC (besides water) is sodium c-12-15 pareth sulfate which is a synthetic compound derived from petroleum and ethylene oxide - it is a surfactant which means it's what helps physically remove the dirt. It is generally the surfactants that are the concern in these products because some have been found to be toxic to plants, animals and humans. Petroleum derived surfactants in particular often break down incompletely and contain toxic impurities that are highly irritant, cause allergic reactions and are endangering to plant and animal life (according to Bio-D's website). Googling those listed in LOCs ingredients I found several references to skin irritation.
LOC has between 5 and 15% anionic surfactants and less than 5% ionic surfactants and is 90% biodegradable
Ecover cleaning products have less than 5% of either (and their multi-surface cleaner is also concentrated so I think this is a fair comparison) they do not contain petroleum derived surfactants and are 100% biodegradable.
The Bio-D cleaner does not give percentages on its packaging (although its washing powder is also less than 5% surfactants and again there are no petroleum derived products).
Looking through my own cupboard at this point I realised that some of my other cleaning products which claim to be green (one even has a European Union green label) contain phosphates (whereas Ecover and Bio-D use zeolites in their washing powder) or higher quantities of surfactants - clearly there are different shades of green.
In conclusion I will be giving our cleaner samples of Ecover and Bio-D to choose from for her use, Ecover washing up liquid will always be used in the kitchen and the vicar will buy a biodegradable soap for use in the toilets. Hopefully.