Friday, April 13, 2012

Green Labelling on Household Products



Q: I've noticed all kinds of green claims and labels on a number of cleaners, specifically dishwashing detergents. What makes these cleaners 'green'?

A. We've seen these eco-friendly claims and labels, too. Some are meaningful, others meaningless. Terms like "natural," "environmentally friendly," and "nontoxic" lack standard definitions. Even "biodegradable" means little unless the information is specific, such as "biodegradable in three days" or "certified biodegradable."

But some of the claims you'll see aren't greenwashing and can point you in the direction of greener cleaners. A statement that a detergent is "certified biodegradable" has been independently verified, as is the Leaping Bunny symbol on some detergents. The presence of that logo indicates that a product wasn't tested on animals during any stage of its development. Keep this shopping tip in mind: Look for specific claims such as "contains no artificial dyes or fragrances," then look at the ingredients list if there is one, which might help confirm the claim.

Q: How do I read green labels? What does each term mean?

A: There are many green labels in the market. Understanding the meaning of the label should help the consumer determine whether the product is worth purchasing or not.

Organic – The ingredients of products labelled "organic" are produced without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics. It is produced in the most natural state as possible. Items that generally bear this label include food products, household cleaners, fibres such as cotton and wool, cosmetics and personal care products. This label is regulated by the governments of most countries. Individuals can look for “USDA organic” seal except for food products where “organic” is most commonly used. Producing organic products does help reduce the use of toxic chemicals that can harm the environment and possibly cause health risks. Purchasing organic products also helps to protect soil, air and water quality, and causes less harm to wildlife and bird populations than non-organic products.

Biodegradable – Once an item labelled "biodegradable" is disposed of, it can decompose into substances that can safely be reabsorbed into the soil. Household cleaners, personal care products and plastics commonly bear this label. The government does not regulate standards for this claim. However, some major retailers use Scientific Certification Systems or a private company to certify claims. Look for a seal of approval. Plastics should state that the product is “compostable”. Biodegradable products help to reduce waste in our landfills and pollution in soil and water.

Non-toxic – Household cleaning products generally contain this label. This label claim is not regulated by government standards. This label is controversial, as some consumer health activists have varying opinions on what is noted as safe from the manufacturer.

Natural – Most items listed 'natural' do not contain a clear definition. Products that contain this label are food, household cleaners, clothing, cosmetics, and personal care products. You may want to investigate the definition of 'natural' to make sure it is a wise purchasing decision. Some manufactures may use the term “natural” too loosely for the claim to have any real meaning.

DEA free – These products do not contain DEA (diethanolamine), a substance linked to cancer in animal studies. Household products and personal care products contain this label. There is no government standards for this claim. Although there has not been a link to cancer established in humans, the risk of cancer is constantly on the rise. Avoiding DEA may be beneficial if you are worried about potential health risks.

Environmentally safe – Most common products with this claim are household cleaners and personal care items. This claim is not measured by government standards. Environmentally safe products carry a vague definition. It may be better for the environment but not 100%, as even the organic products affect the environment and require a carbon-based footprint to transport them. This claim may also be too loose to have any real meaning unless substantiated in other ways, for example, through independent certification.

Sustainable – Sustainable products are made with renewable resources, such as forests harvested using methods to protect soil, water, and plant and animal life. Common products are wood, paper and latex products. They may carry a FSC seal that is granted by the Forest Stewardship Council. If you purchase sustainable products, watch for the seal of approval to help take better care of our forests.

No CFCs – These products do not contain CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), which are chemicals that damage the Earth’s protective ozone layer. This claim does not meet most governments' standards. The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the governments of many countries banned CFCs in consumer products decades ago. CFC-free products may contain other harmful ingredients. It is not worthwhile to purchase a product based solely on the claim that it is CFC-free.

No parabens – These products do not contain parabens (chemical preservatives), which can interfere with endocrine function. Cosmetics, personal care products and pharmaceutical products carry this label and it is not regulated by government standards. The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) state that parabens don’t pose a health risk at low levels. Some doctors suspect a possible link to breast cancer. If you are a health conscious individual you may wish to purchase products that do not contain parabens.

Non-polluting – There is no clear definition for this term. Some household cleaners may contain this claim. It is not a regulated label by the government. This label is very vague and you may want to concentrate on purchasing certified organic or biodegradable products instead.

Recycled – These are products that contain some recycled content. Paper products and office supplies are most common for carrying this label claim. Recycled products do have a positive impact on the environment and on waste management and recycling efforts, especially if it contains 30% or more post-consumer content.

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