Climate Action Collaborative: ‘Green’ cleaning products can help achieve sustainability goals (column)
September 5, 2018
If you've ever gone to the grocery store to shop for your family, you know that reading labels can be revelatory but time consuming. To speed up the process, many shoppers have an internal list of "dos and don'ts," such as avoiding high amounts of sugar, overly chemically sounding ingredients and even expiration dates that signal too many preservatives are in play.
We pay attention to ingredients because eventually we're going to put them into our and our families' bodies. But why stop at food? With a little effort, we can bring that same knowledge and apply it to the cleaning products we use in our home on a near-daily basis.
"Green cleaning" is a widely recognized best practice in commercial buildings and homes. Green cleaning not only implies the products you are using are safe and nontoxic, but also that they are made with recycled content, minimal packaging and are recyclable at the end of their life.
In 2015, the Eagle Valley waste diversion rate was 19.6 percent and the recycling rate was 26.9 percent. The Climate Action Plan for the Eagle County Community suggests that one of the easiest ways to make positive impacts in the waste sector is by implementing more sustainable purchasing practices — and a great place to start is with cleaning products.
Better purchasing practices can help us reach our Climate Action Collaborative goals to reduce carbon emissions in Eagle County 25 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050.
To simplify choosing products in the grocery store, search for proven environmentally friendly brands, such as Seventh Generation, Greenworks, SimpleGreen, Method, Ecover, Dr.Bronner's, Murphy's Oil and Bon Ami (all available online or at larger stores such as Walmart). If none are available close by, check for an "eco label" on product packaging.
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Label reading is another option — however, it takes some familiarity or a nearby smartphone to understand what exactly is in every cleaning product. Here's one example of label wordplay: dihydrogen oxide is just ordinary water, while dihydrogen dioxide, more commonly known as hydrogen peroxide, is a topical disinfectant and mild household cleaner which can produce toxic effects with long-term use.
If, like many, you'd like to avoid adding time at the grocery store reading small print, other solutions — pun intended — are even easier.
We've become so infatuated with the squeaky-clean scent of bleach that some of us might have forgotten the most local and Earth-friendly we can get is by creating our own cleaning products. Such as cooking instead of eating out, homemade cleaning products can be the cheapest option (no additional cost for packaging) and better for your health. The best part? No one is going to taste test your result, so even amateur cooks can whip up a mix without fear.
Common mixes include familiar ingredients such as white vinegar, baking soda, washing soda, lemon juice and club soda. Free recipes can be found on sensible-house-cleaning -solutions.com and similar sites.
The cleansers we currently use in our homes come into direct contact with our floors, our clothes, dishes and furniture, as well as our skin, hands (and therefore mouths) every day. Chemical residue can be found in the air, and harsh chemical runoff can even find its way into our water systems, affecting the lives of the plants and animals around us.
The Environmental Protection Agency states on its website that alkylphenol ethoxylates (a common ingredient in cleaners) can cause adverse reproductive effects in wildlife that are exposed to it. Volatile organic compounds, which are released into the air through the use of most cleaning products, can "affect indoor air quality and also contribute to smog formation in outdoor air."
Now to the packaging: Almost every cleaning product now a day is sold in a plastic container, and plastic trash is a primary driver of landfills and ocean pollution. According to National Geographic ("Planet or Plastic," June 2018), less than a fifth of plastic waste is recycled, and in the United States, it's less than 10 percent.
More than 40 percent of plastic is used only once and then disposed of. The high levels of waste created from plastic, paired with the single-use nature of cleaner packaging, means cleaning products might be one of the most prevailing culprits of environmentally damaging household waste.
Clean is clearly good, but not all clean is green. For Eagle County residents, purchasing or preparing greener cleaning products is a quick step to begin lowering negative environmental impact.
Elizabeth Esche is a partner of the Climate Action Collaborative. Learn more at http://www.climateactioncollaborative.org.