As we become more conscious consumers, we are being more particular about protecting the environment, ourselves, and our loved ones from harmful chemicals. Fortunately, this is driving the suppliers to produce more “clean” products that are devoid of toxic chemicals. However, it is also giving rise to an unscrupulous marketing tactic known as “greenwashing”.
What is greenwashing?
To cash in on this consumer desire for a cleaner product, many manufacturers try to hide their products’ toxicity behind the clever use of words such as “organic”, “green”, “eco”, “nature”, etc. At first glance, these words can fool us into thinking that a product is environmentally friendly or “green” when, in fact, it is not.
When I started my journey down the path of a less toxic life, greenwashing had me fooled many times into believing that the product I had purchased was better for all involved. I have a reasonably selfish yet simplistic view – if a product is firstly safe for myself and the family, then in turn, it is safe for the environment around us. In other words, if it is “clean” then it is also “green”.
How not to be fooled by greenwashing
It took a sceptical view of our manufacturers, a more knowledgeable mentor, and some self-education before I became confident that I was buying clean and therefore green products for my personal and home care use, including food products.
Let’s look at how we can avoid being fooled by the cunning advertising technique of “greenwashing”.
It requires being able to spot the common greenwashing words, being able to interpret the ingredient list, and coming up with alternatives to these toxic products.
My beloved decided to support me on my “low tox” journey, and as his first gesture, he bought the dishwashing liquid pictured above. It has the drawcard words “eco”, “nature”, “biodegradable”, “recycled and recyclable”. There are also the words “orange & ginger” and an eye-catching picture of oranges; all intended to make us believe that it contains natural orange and ginger.
Here is the list of ingredients:
How to interpret the list of ingredients
Some of the ingredients are almost impossible to pronounce and unless you have a degree in chemistry, almost impossible to know what each one is.
To solve this dilemma, I looked up each ingredient using the Environmental Working Group website and the Chemical Maze App. To avoid boring you with a chemistry lecture, I have summarised my findings in the following table.
Notice how the ingredient list has no mention of orange or ginger even though both are on the front label. They probably refer to the artificial fragrance of the product.
The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on a product label represents an undisclosed mixture of various chemicals used to produce the scent and to disperse and increase its longevity.
One such compound is diethyl phthalate.2
Phthalates are linked to birth defects and damage to the male reproductive system. They are suspected endocrine, liver, kidney, reproductive, developmental, immune, and neuro toxins.1,4
In a nutshell, phthalates wreak havoc on your hormones. Sounds alarming but the good news is that our body can detox from them quite quickly once we stop our exposure to them.5
Personally, the only ingredient I would want on my skin is the water. As for the environment, three out of the six remaining ingredients are “suspected to be an environmental toxin”. That does not equate to “green”!
Finding alternatives to greenwashed toxic products
In today’s fast-paced world, we have come to rely on ready-made for most of the products we use on ourselves and around the home, so what can we do to avoid the toxic products that are not good for us or the environment? Here is a list of some suggestions:
- Find apps, websites or books to look up the ingredients and their effects. I use the Chemical Maze App, The Environmental Working Group website.
- Find reliable and trustworthy companies who only sell toxin-free products. Start by asking your low toxin living friends for recommendations or joining a Low Toxin Facebook group.
- For your cooking ingredients, start shopping at local markets for real food grown without herbicides and pesticides. Easy Read Recipes by Leanne Foreman is an excellent site for easier to read recipes using real food ingredients.
- Consider making your own skin care and home care products as a fun and creative activity. Biome’s website and stores have the ingredients and recipes. Mommypotamus is another online place to find some DIY recipes.
In summary, please don’t beat yourself up for the times you have already been fooled by greenwashing. I’m sure I would not be able to find anyone who hasn’t been fooled, including myself. However, as my knowledge and experience have increased, I have become less vulnerable to the tactics of these unscrupulous manufacturers and advertisers.
I hope I have given you some ideas of ways you can also become more consumer savvy and empowered. We all have the right to choose what we want to put on and in our body, and ultimately into the environment.