Title – Using Eco-Friendly Household Products
By Cindy Lim
What are eco-friendly household products?
Eco-friendly organic household products range from eco green household cleaners, to organic bath and beauty products, and even environmentally friendly gardening products.
They are actually our day-to-day household products, but are different from their conventional counterparts, in that they are usually made of natural ingredients. As such, they are sometimes known as organic products. The natural components from which organic products are made from either occur naturally in the environment or the natural components bio-degrade shortly after use, and do not leave behind any harmful man-made chemicals. Hence, they do not pollute the environment with their use.
Some manufacturers of eco-friendly household products also take the additional effort to ensure that the packaging for their products is green. For example, they might choose to minimise packaging and help reduce waste, or they could make use of recycled materials (eg. recycled paper or plastic) in the production of the packaging, so as to generate demand for recycled materials. All these efforts contribute to waste reduction for the planet, and indirectly help to reduce pollution and global warming.
Other than being kinder to the environment, eco friendly household products also have the benefit of being healthier to their users – and that’s you, me, and our loved ones.
Conventional household products usually contain harmful synthetic chemicals that often enter our bodies through our skin (via deliberate application of products like moisturisers, or unintended contact with products such as air fresheners), or through ingestion (e.g. washing liquid remains on our plates and pots). Some of these harmful chemicals bio-accumulate in our bodies over long term use and harm our bodies. On the contrary, organic household products pose less of such dangers as they are, by definition, made of naturally occurring compounds that do not harm our bodies.
The problem with synthetic household products
Have you ever looked at the ingredient lists for some of the conventional bathroom or cleaning products? If you haven’t, take a look. Very often, what you will find is a long list of substances, with names you and I can hardly pronounce. And the likelihood of any of us knowing about their chemical properties and the effects they have on our environment or our bodies is even lower. Yet, many of us use these products on a daily basis.
Why is this, an issue? If you were to do a quick search on any of the substances whose name is too long to pronounce, you are likely to find out that the substance is a synthetic compound. And many of these compounds are toxic.
Take for example, Triclosan, which is commonly used in soaps and toothpaste. Trichlosan has for over a decade, been extolled for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. However, studies have shown that Triclosan can combine with chlorine in tap water to form chloroform, a carcinogen. Dioxins may also be formed, and these chemicals are highly toxic to the body as well as to the environment. Environmental reports informed that Triclosan that persist in treated water often end up in rivers and seas, inhibiting photosynthesis in algae (one of the major contributors to our oxygen supply on earth).
Triclosan is not the only commonly found synthetic compound in conventional household products that is harm to both humans and the environment. There are also other substances like parabens.
Research have found that parabens, often used in face and body lotions as a preservative, adversely affected the secretion of testosterone and the function of the male reproductive system. The Clinico Hospital in Spain has also suggested a link between and breast cancer, after finding increased levels of parabens in breast tissue removed from cancer patients. In the same way that paraben interferes with the hormones of humans, they have also been found to be disrupting the hormonal systems and genetics of aquatic animals which come into contact with paraben-polluted waters.
Identifying eco friendly household products
Today, there are so many different types of labels appearing on the packaging of our household products. It is as if overnight, so many “natural” and “healthy” household products have made their way to the departmental shelves. But are all of them truly healthy for the environment and our bodies?
Not all product labels can be trusted. Some labels are not bound by specific standards nor is there any independent organisation that verifies claims made by the label. In other words, anyone can use them. An example of such a label is “100% Biocompatible”. In case you are not aware, the label “Natural” is another loosely applied label. Very often, when you look closely at the ingredient list of products labeled as “Natural”, you might find artificial preservatives, colourings and other synthetic chemicals.
There are also labels that seem very similar, but they actually mean very different things. Take the example of the labels “Certified Biodegradable” versus “Biodegradable”. The former label is certified by the Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), an independent certifier with specific standards for environmentally friendly household products, and hence is a useful label to look out for. On the contrary, the latter label is not clearly defined, transparent (i.e. standards are not publicly available) nor independently verified. Hence, it is not a very meaningful label.
It is not possible to go through all the available labels here, since new labels are appearing everyday, and some labels are more common in some parts of the world than others. So one thing we consumers can do to help ourselves is to check the validity of the various labels at websites like the following: http://www.greenerchoices.org/home.cfm.
In today’s world, where new chemicals are invented by the day, understanding the ingredients in your household products is also fundamental.
Take a closer look at the ingredient lists the next time you go shopping. If you are unclear about the nature of the ingredients in the household product you are intending to purchase, look them up online. There are loads of information on the internet today, put up by consumers who have had experience using the products you are considering.
A general guide given by many advocates of healthy, environmentally friendly products is that if the name of a particular ingredient is too long to pronounce, the product is best avoided. You might laugh at this very simplistic guideline, but it can be a useful rule of thumb, especially if you haven’t got the time to do a more detailed research.
Take for example, Methylisothiazolinone and Dibutyl phthalate, as opposed to Organic coconut oil. The first two names are unlikely familiar to those of us who are non chemists. And true enough, Methylisothiazolinone has been associated with allergic reactions and irritations in humans, and Dibutyl phthalate to birth defects in humans and animals.
Where to find eco-friendly household products.
The market for eco-friendly household products is just starting to grow in Singapore. In recent years, we are seeing more stores selling some of these products.
Some of the stores are major retail chain stores like NTUC Finest and Unity Healthcare. Others are smaller retailers like Sunny Choice (Rail Mall at
Alternatively, you could also order some of the products online. Some established eco friendly household product brands include Seventh Generation, Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Ecover.