Puddle Jumpers

Enjoying life, off the hamster wheel


Greenwashing – verb: the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

I subscribe to David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and I really enjoy many of the tips and information they have on their website.

A recent newsletter linked me to a couple of sites which can help consumers determine whether products claiming they’re “green” really are, or at least help the consumer consider the total life-cycle of the product.

Many companies will claim that they’re “environmentally friendly” or “organic”, but may not state how they came to that claim. We need to think critically when evaluating a product. Have they included some, but not much, organic material, thus misleading us to believe they’re environmentally responsible? If so, what ingredients makes up the bulk of the product? How many chemicals have been added? Do you know what they are, let alone how to pronounce them?! There you are, standing in the grocery store, staring at miles of shelves with hundreds of different products trying to make sense of things, feeling a bit overwhelmed, and just trying to do the right thing. But how can you even know what you’re buying is gentle on the environment?

Clicking on the image above will link you to TerraChoice North America’s premier environmental marketing agency. They have posted the “Six Sins of Greenwashing” which highlights the “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

CTV interviewed the president of TerraChoice, Scott McDougall, whose company tested “green” products and found that 99% of the claims were false.

Armed with this information, what can we do? Let’s start with the basics:

– Reduce, reuse, recycle. That’s pretty self explanatory. If a product is safe to reuse, than use it again as long as possible.

– Use reusable bags when shopping. Again, pretty self explanatory. However, this doesn’t mean just at the grocery store. Try using your bag everywhere, no matter what you’re buying. Want everyone to know you shopped at Holt Renfrew? Tell them where you bought that fabulous top, and carry it out of the store in your fabulous reused bag. Do you love Lee Valley? Carry your new fabulous tools and garden trowel out of the store in a fabulous canvas, hemp, soy or bamboo bag, or one you pieced together from an old pair of jeans.

– Avoid plastic wrap at home. If you can use aluminum foil, use it as long as it lasts, then wash it and throw it in the metal recycling bin. Place left-overs in a bowl and cover with a plate, or reuse #2, #4 or #5 plastic. All other plastics shouldn’t be used twice. Better yet, get some clear glass storage containers and use them. IKEA used to sell some really good glass containers that they’ve sadly discontinued. I’m sure something similar can be found elsewhere, though.

– Buy second hand. Someone else’s trash could be your treasure. I love sparkly, shiny new things, but after a few uses, it won’t be new anymore, so why not save some money and avoid buying new if possible.

– Bring your own coffee cup with you at all times and grab-a-java in your funky-cool coffee cup. Avoid paper cups.

– In most developed countries, our tap water is A1. Drink it. If you don’t like the taste of chlorine, get a water filter. The best kind to get is a ceramic filter that can be reused over and over. If you’re using a plastic bottle, remember to use #2, #4 or #5 plastic. Sing the song: “Two, Four, Five! Keep yourself alive!” (This little ditty is courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation.)

– Pour a little water into the sink when doing a few dishes. You’ll use less than by letting the water pour out of the tap for a long time if you do the “pour, sponge and wash” technique.

Now onto some other stuff:

Yesterday I made a small batch of soap. Many moons ago, before I started sitting for hours in front of the stupid computer wasting time, I actually did some cool and productive things, like making soap. I had a small batch of finished unscented castile soap (a fancy way of saying olive oil soap) sitting around, so I decided to mill it and make a batch of scented soap. After shredding it on a cheese shredder, melting it, scenting it and pouring it into the moulds, I cleaned up the soapy mess I had made, and found that this soap cleaned really, really well. It lead me to thinking that I could probably make a few things for a fraction of the cost of buying “environmentally friendly” products, and it will do just as good, or not better, a job at cleaning than the expensive stuff I’ve been buying.

Currently, I’ve been trying to find products that will have the least environmental impact, but will still do a good job. I’ve been focusing on cleaning products. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

Laundry detergent: Bio-Vert/Bio-Green Laundry detergent. I can’t find a webpage for it, but it has been approved by the Eco Logo Program: Eco Logo. As I’m starting to run low on this, my hope is to make a batch of homemade laundry soap. I’ve found some recipes online, and if Sunlight Pure Soap is pure and without any harsh additives, I’ll experiment with that. Otherwise, I’ll be making a batch of soap, and let it dry and neutralize. Until then, here’s the recipe that I’ll be using to make laundry detergent. Recipe courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation.

• Liquid Laundry Detergent

1/2 cup Borax
1/2 cup washing soda
1 cup soap flakes or a grated bar soap
2 gallons water
20 drops essential oil (optional)

Combine borax, washing soda and most of the water. Boil soap flakes in remaining water and add to first mixture (you can also melt grated bar soap in the microwave). The soap will gel the mixture. If your water is hard, add more washing soda. Use about 1/2 cup per load. Works in cold water!

I’ve also found a recipe for powdered detergent online from the Modern Cottage blog. I’ll be using Sunlight Soap, although my guess is Fels Naptha and Sunlight have similar properties. Fels Naptha contains a petroleum based chemical. Read about it here.

Powdered Laundry Detergent

1 bar Fels Naptha soap, grated (comes out to about 2 cups)
1 c Borax
1 c Washing Soda
1/4 c OxyClean (not necessary, but we add it)
Mix it all together into a bumpy, granular mix. Don’t worry about stuff getting correctly dispersed, even if it doesn’t quite look like it does.

Use 1T for a light load

Use 2T for a large or dirty load (It’s true! Only 2 Tablespoons per load!)

• Dish detergent: I’ve been using VIP dish detergent, made right here in Vancouver. It claims to be totally biodegradable and they post the MSDS sheets right on their webpage. And unlike many companies who don’t reveal the ingredients to WHMIS because it’s a proprietary secret, they do. It’s been around for decades. I’m running low on dish detergent too, so I’ll be trying a batch of my own homemade version, adapted from the Suzuki Foundation’s recipe:

Recipe 1

2 cups soap flakes
1 gallon tap water
25 drops essential oil (optional) (eg. lemon, lime, grapefruit)
Combine first two ingredients in a pot on the stove and bring to a boil. Simmer until the soap flakes have dissolved, cool, then transfer to a squirt bottle. Add essential oil last.

Recipe 2

Mix and put in squirt bottle:
1/2 cup liquid castile soap
1 – 2 cups water
23 drops essential oil (try 20 drops lime and 10 drops sweet orange; vary scents with lemon,bergamot or lavender)

• Dishwasher detergent: We bought some very expensive Nature Clean that works really well. It’s also got the Eco Logo certification on it, and doesn’t require much for a full load of dishes. Unlike other detergents that leave a harsh chemical smell on the dishes, dishes come out of the dishwasher feeling like they were hand washed and nice and clean. It helps that we have a new dishwasher too that takes a little longer but uses less water. I have yet to find a good recipe that can be used for each load. Currently we use a chemical rinsing agent, because the machine won’t work unless there’s something in the reservoir, but I’ve read that vinegar will work, so I might experiment with that instead.

• General cleaning: Baking soda, vinegar, tea tree oil or lavender oil. Cleaning the tub, toilet, sink in the bathroom, and the sink in the kitchen with baking soda is great! It’s mildly abrasive and cuts grease. For harder to clean things, a little washing soda dissolved in water goes a long way. Tea tree oil cuts bad smells too. Adding some soap helps to “carry” the baking soda, but it doesn’t rinse off as nicely as not using it. Putting the baking soda in a little container with a shaker lid works well to shake the baking soda over the area to be cleaned.

• Windows and mirrors: I use a micro-fibre cloth by Trend Active, a German product. I realize that the cloth is a synthetic product, but I’ve used it now for about 7 years, and it has a long life in it still. Consequently I won’t be needing any harsh chemical cleaners for a long time.

• Odour control in the laundry: Neil works hard and works his clothes hard. My latest attempt at odour control for clothes is washing soda, and so far, so good. I’ve used ammonia in the past, but now I’m avoiding it.

• Bleach alternative: President’s Choice Ultra Active Oxygen Bleach. I don’t know how good or bad this product is. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than Nature Clean.

Next on the list of things to make will be shampoo and toothpaste. Lately I’ve been using baking soda in addition to the toothpaste we usually use, and I find it works better than the toothpaste. My teeth feel smooth and clean afterwards. I’ve also purchased a toothbrush that I can send back to the manufacturer for recycling. It’s called Preserve. I’m still on the hunt for a wooden-handled, pure bristle-brush toothbrush.

• Milk: yes, Milk. We’re now buying Avalon milk in glass containers that are returned to the store for a deposit ($1 or $2, I think). This makes for just a little less plastic in our home, and Avalon Dairy is right here in Vancouver.

Good luck on your own environmental impact reduction! It’s time to turn my attentions back to our bathroom reno. Neil’s hammering and sawing away in there. We’ll post pictures when it’s done.

Pondering the plastic puddle.


2 comments on “Greenwashing

  1. jane
    August 27, 2008

    You are so awesome. And more energetic than me about finding eco cleaners. I do a lot of the other stuff already, and tried using the Supposed green alternatives from the store, but either I was unhappy with the results or they gave me skin senitivities. So I just gave up and stopped cleaning.
    In NL we don’t have recycling yet, so I’m focusing on the reduce part of the 3 R’s this year. It’s like the old saying
    “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”
    It’s amazing what you can do without.
    Yana – on the other puddle

  2. ingridandneil
    August 29, 2008

    Thanks for your comments! What, no recycling? Really? Wow!! I keep saying over and over, what did our predecessors do during the war and depression, when they had to make do with what they had. It doesn’t take much to cut an old trashy towel into squares and use it for a dishrag. Why buy J-Cloths, which are made from plastic and won’t biodegrade when you can use an old cotton towel. Don’t like the stringy bits on your “new” dish rag? Well then, roll the edges and do a quick and dirty blanket stitch around it to keep the thing from fraying. Full disclosure: I don’t stitch the edges, and I’ve been using a bamboo/cotton dishcloth for awhile now, as well as one made from wood fibre. That will be my last wood fibre purchase though, because making cellulose fibre uses really harsh chemical and such. So when this one wears out, I’ll go back to tearing up old towels.

    Love your blog, by the way!

    Ing – wondering how much plastic is floating in the puddle

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This entry was posted on August 20, 2008 by in Main and tagged , , .

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