Environmentally Friendly Products Come Of Age: All-natural Cleaning Alternatives Are Safer For People And The Environment – And Some Work Even Better Than Leading Brands

In the 1960s and 1970s, phosphates were considered to be among the biggest polluters of the environment. When introduced into the environment, phosphates lead to the depletion of oxygen in lakes and streams, killing fish and other aquatic life.

Beginning in 1971, many states banned the use of household laundry detergents containing this chemical compound, and most consumers believed they no longer posed an environmental threat.

But phosphates were not banned in most states, and they continue to be a key ingredient in most industrial and institutional laundry detergents and in automatic dishwashing detergents used in households throughout the country.

Phosphates aren’t the only pollutant that household cleaning products are emitting into our environment. Many common household cleaning products contain other toxic ingredients that pose a threat to air and water quality and to the health of wildlife and humans. According to the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition, the average American home has more than three gallons of hazardous materials. Other sources say it’s as high as 25 gallons, most of which is in household cleaning products. Elevated concentrations of these toxic materials can remain in the air and on surfaces long after the cleaning activity is completed, posing a risk to human health.

Here are some of the top polluting problems caused by many of today’s household cleaning products:

• Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted from certain solvents such as isopropyl alcohol and glycol ethers found in household cleaning, degreasing and disinfecting products. Prolonged exposure to these compounds can cause a variety of health problems, and VOCs have long been linked to the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer.

• Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are chemicals that have been used in household products for more than 40 years as detergents, emulsifiers and wetting or dispersing agents. In the body, NPEs mimic the hormone estrogen, and researchers have speculated that these chemicals are contributing to decreased sperm count in wild animals – and possibly in humans. NPEs also do not biodegrade in the environment.

• Linear alkylbenzene sulfonate (LAS) is the most widely used surfactant in the world and is found in laundry detergents and many other common cleaning products. LAS also contains a "benzene ring" in its molecule, and benzene is a carcinogen or cancer causing agent.

• Environmental persistence: Many cleaning products claim to be biodegradable, but consumers should beware. For a cleaner to be truly biodegradable, each ingredient within the product must break down into basic natural substances – carbon dioxide and water – within days or weeks, not years or decades. Products that completely biodegrade in the environment don’t affect our food chain and natural life-cycle. Many ingredients in today’s household cleaning products don’t meet that test.

Cleaning products labeled as environmentally friendly have been available for years, and many offer dramatically improved environmental and health benefits over traditional cleaners. But consumers have long believed they had to sacrifice cleaning effectiveness when purchasing such products. Not any longer. Laboratory tests are proving that products made with all-natural ingredients, that contain no toxins and are completely biodegradable also can be effective cleaners – in some cases, even more effective than top selling brands.

Among these naturally-derived cleaning ingredients are alkyl polyglycosides (APGT) a cleaning compound made from coconut oil, palm kernel oil and glucose. Sun & Earth (www.sunandearth.com) laundry detergent, part of a family of environmentally-friendly cleaning products containing APGT, proved equal to All® laundry detergent in the removal of clay, oil and other stains. And in a comparison of all-purpose cleaners, Sun & Earth performed better than the two leading national brands.

Using products without harsh chemicals often is just a matter of common sense and following manufacturers’ directions. For example, the manufacturers of many refrigerators, microwaves and other household appliances recommend against using harsh cleaners on their products. The reason? Toxic solvents in many all-purpose cleaners – including some of the most popular brands – cause stress cracks in plastic appliance components. Such cracks can diminish the life of the appliance.

Using some environmentally friendly products also has direct health benefits on the millions of people who suffer from allergies or sensitive skin. Many of these products use organic components such as lemon and orange oils for scent and color instead of dyes and perfumes, which are thought to trigger allergies. In addition, tests measuring skin vitality after exposure to the leading dishwashing liquids and one environmentally friendly brand showed the leading brands to cause significantly greater skin cell mortality.

There’s one more piece of good news for consumers who like the idea of using environmentally friendly products but haven’t yet tried them. The price of many such products is now competitive with the leading brands – within 5 to 10 percent of the retail cost. Many grocery stores, health food retailers and pharmacies now carry more than one brand of environmentally friendly products – and, of course, the internet makes many of these products available through increasingly popular online transactions.

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Tim Miejan
Tim Miejan is editor & co-publisher of The Edge magazine. Contact him at 651.578.8969 or editor@edgemagazine.net. Visit The Edge online at www.edgemagazine.net.

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