Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spreading It Around With Three Green Leaves

Since starting this blog I have had so much encouragement for the effort and so many suggestions of topics to discuss that I was overwhelmed and excited all at the same time! It was wonderful to see that so many people were committed to living more eco-friendly lives and I was thrilled to share information with them.

One of the topics raised with my sister in law was that of household cleaning products. She was already doing some research on various products so I asked if she would be interested in completing a write up on her findings so I could share it with everyone. She was definitely excited to dig into the topic even deeper and she emailed me her final piece just the other day.

When I got to the end of the editorial I noticed she was unsure how many leaves to give to each company so the ratings posted below are my interpretation of each strictly based on her findings; I intend to do some research into this topic myself as I am currently using one of the products she mentions. I love the way it works and was pleased at its lack of environmental impact but now I also feel it requires more investigating as Melissa has indicated.

So without further ado, here is her first GLR piece!

The Jury Is Still Out

A big ol' can of worms

OK, for me, the whole issue of what constitutes a "green" laundry detergent just got murkier.

I have been using Seventh Generation laundry detergent almost exclusively for about six months, and feeling pretty good about that, though I knew in my head I didn't really deserve to feel pretty good about it, since I simply picked it up because it was in the "green" section of my grocery store. It's the same kind of shortcut as voting the party line because you were too lazy to read up on the candidates (not that I've ever been guilty of that! not me!).

Cut to last weekend, when I ventured to a different grocery store. I was walking up the detergent aisle and two labels leapt off the shelf at me: One was for Purex Natural Elements, and the other was for Arm & Hammer Essentials. I'd never seen either of these products before, so I picked up both bottles and noticed that they shared "coconut-based surfactant" as a key ingredient.

OK, so a little less call for petroleum...a good thing, right? And my mind started turning over what it means (if anything) for some of the more traditional suppliers of detergents to begin offering greener alternatives.

A case of consumer demand making inroads into the manufacturers' consciousness? One would hope. Or a sop to shush up those consumers while these mega-manufacturers continue to rely on the same old (none-too-eco-friendly) brands as their flagship products? ("Hey, we're trying...yawn.") I am not a person who inherently distrusts all corporations as evil empires, but my healthy skepticism was activated.

Foggier and foggier

Well, lo and behold, turning my Seventh Generation bottle around at home revealed that its key ingredient, likewise, was derived from coconut. Now I was more confused...did this validate the new, big-brand offerings, or lessen the shine on my Seventh Gen stuff? Hmmm.

So off I went to Treehugger to see what they had to say. My search didn't reveal anything much about Purex's offering, but they definitely weren't thrilled about Arm & Hammer's product. Here is an excerpt from Arm and Hammer Essentials (not so fast!):

"Since they think 'Treehuggers' are their target market I think we should let them know that the product has some merits, but using palm kernel oil and coconut oil isn't one of them.

Reduced packaging is great. Reduced energy for transportation is great. Saving money is great. Using an ingredient that promotes the severe deforestation of Southeast and Pacific Asia, not so much... "

Uh, yikes! I knew there had to be a catch!

Coconut: Savior of the planet or...?

While trying to learn more about the coconut connection, I found another Treehugger reference to a "green" cleaner in another category -- Clorox's Green Works cleaners -- not being all it's cracked up to be, due to the coconut issue. Here are two excerpts from Introducing Clorox’s Green Works Cleaners:

"They say their alkyl polyglucoside comes from coconut oil and their ethanol and glycerine from corn oil; while that's better than using petroleum-derived alternatives, there are still major issues with rainforest habitat destruction relating to harvesting coconut oil ..."

"Treehugger's final take on that: "Green Works is better than a conventional alternative, but not perfect."

Anyway, I started to wonder why the coconut-based surfactant is bad for Arm & Hammer but OK for Seventh Generation -- at least from Treehugger’s perspective. Maybe there's some subtle difference that would only be known to chemists. I didn't find an answer so far, but I'm still looking.

So for those keeping score at home:

Purex, Arm & Hammer, Clorox and even (sniff) Seventh Generation will all receive an honorable Three Green Leaves due to their commitment to attempt to be more Earth friendly and the strides they are taking to get there ahead of the pack.

The jury is out, it would seem. Anyone have anything illuminating to say on this topic? I hope so! The takeaway here seems to be that we all need to do the legwork before assuming anything is really as good as it sounds. Sigh. I won't be pouring my Seventh Generation detergent down the drain (other than in the usual clothes-washing sense), but my feel-good vibe is not quite what it was, at least until proven otherwise.

Note: For a fairly detailed explanation of what to consider, in looking for laundry detergents, you can check out The Green Guide report and jump to its product comparison...however, there are not a lot of reviews in to date.


Hyla Waldron said...

Check out Soap nuts!!! They are wonderful! We use them!
I just moved the post over from the old blog! Check it out!


kim* said...

this is alot to read but im bookmarking ya for sure

Bridgete said...

The rainforests have been a concern of mine for many, many years. There are so many animals that can only live in the rainforest and if you take away that habitat then even if there are efforts to replant the rainforest, those animals are long gone by the time it all grows back.

But I do agree with your three leaves for the effort.

Ginger said...

before i forget, ecover makes a great laundry soap as well as a dish soap (dishwasher soap isn't so great unless you rinse first).

that said, i think that some major brands of household cleaners are moving toward ingredients that aren't petroleum based out of demand. i also believe that treehugger may approve of one more than another because of factors like: how much organic do they use? where is their source much rainforest have they taken over? do they perform unnecessary tests on animals? what kind of company are they overall?
that may clear up some confusion about mixed reviews for similar ingredients in different products.

it's true that a lot of "good" ingredients (soy, corn and coconut) are not all they're cracked up to be because the producers often level forested areas and drive out peoples and animals from their habitats; that's why it's important to purchase from good companies as well as companies that use those ingredients. for instance: the demand for corn to be produced for alternative fuels is so high now that farmers are taking over and deforesting south america...sounds bad, but currently, 70% of the corn grown in the united states is used to feed live stock for human consumption. so should we stop demanding alternative fuels? no. if more people would eat vegetarian/vegan the demand for cattle breeding and what-not would lessen and eventually we could use the corn crops for fuel instead of cow fodder....or we could feed a large portion of the starving population of the world.

i'm long winded, but my point is that we have to look at the bigger picture and prioritize our resources. after all, we created the problem and we have to change our behavior to fix it.

good post!!

High Desert Diva said...

Very informative...thanks

Judi FitzPatrick said...

Excellent points. I've been using the Trader Joe's liquid detergent for a couple of years. Just checked the bottle and it's first ingredient is "plant based surfactants". You've opened my eyes, I will have to do more research into what is really in that bottle before buying it again. Thanks to both of you for this info; nice work!
Peace, Judi