WE are told to read labels of food, beverages, cleaning products and others and to watch out for unwanted chemical contents. The issue is that manufacturers (big companies or small neighborhood livelihood programs) are at times greenwashing by using fancy words and bold catchphrases to make us buy their products. Some supposed clean and green products still contain toxic ingredients and environmental poisons.
Here’s how Kim Barnouin, in her book Skinny Bitch Home, Beauty and Style, says how these manufacturers are misleading us with greenwashed terms.
Misleading term: Natural. Really? Prove it. Make them back it up with specific ingredients (“solvent-free” or “no phosphates” for example). The term “natural” isn’t regulated by any governmental agencies. So brands slap it on every product they can get their dirty hands on. Ninety-eight percent of so-called natural to give you an idea of just how bad it is out there, a study done by environmental marketing agency, TerraChoice, found that 98 percent of so-called natural products on the shelves are getting away with potentially false claims.
Misleading term: Eco-friendly. A company learns how to recycle and suddenly they think they’re green. Before you know it, they are calling their entire line of dishwashing detergents “eco-friendly” because they got rid of one ingredient that isn’t so natural. But there are a dozen others that will kill off our wildlife and poison our oceans! Puhlease. If a brand shouts “eco-friendly” on the front of the label with nothing to support it, chances are they are compulsive liars. Example: Many aerosol spray cleaners flaunt “no CFCs” (chlorofluorocarbons) on the front of the package to let you know they are not depleting the ozone layer and thereby selling an “eco-friendly” product. Hmm, that’s weird. CFCs were banned from aerosols since 1978. That means companies cannot legally use them. That doesn’t make you environmentally conscious. That’s simply abiding by the law.
Misleading term: Nontoxic. Let me tell you something very interesting about the term “nontoxic.” It has no official definition. While I throw it around like it’s going out of style, I actually back it up with facts. If you spot this claim, check for a third-party certification or dig deeper, Nancy Drew.
Misleading term: Organic. Just when you thought you know how to navigate the “organic” label with ease, chew on this: Only food and herbs can be certified organic. Unfortunately, the term doesn’t carry much weight on a household cleaner. So if they start mouthing off on the front of the label that the product is “organic,” question it. In chemistry, “organic “ refers to chemicals that are carbon based. Yes, that would include VOCs, those harmful fumes offgassing in your home. In that case, they are most certainly organic—just not the kind you were hoping for.
On a happier note, the ingredients inside a household product can be organic if they are plant-based. These are good. The more of these in a product, the safer your home is going to be. Look for plant-based ingredients or oils that are labeled “certified organic” by the proper government agency.
Misleading term: Biodegradable. When used responsibly this term refers to something that will naturally decompose into matter that the soil can absorb. But companies exploit this term. Think about it—in due time, everything will biodegrade. Plastic bottles biodegrade. They just require about seven hundred years to even begin the process. By then you will be living your sixth afterlife as an Egyptian goddess or something. The problem is they get thrown in landfills where there’s little air, moisture, or sunlight to help them biodegrade. So they go down v-e-r-y slowly. Even DDT, which is considered one of the most toxic carcinogens that has ever existed, most certainly biodegrades, but as it does, it actually breaks down into two compounds that are even more dangerous—DDD and DDE.
The key is looking for plant-derived ingredients that belong in the soil, so will break down there quicker. Harsh chemicals don’t. Look for products that put a timer on this ecological claim, like “biodegradable in 3-5 days.”
I say, the best is to grow your own veggies, herbs, farm animals; make your own cleaners from natural resources like vinegar and baking soda; use items of clothing made from natural fibers; and many others which we will detail here every Saturday.
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