Janitorial and Personal Care
Background to the issue
Using harsh chemical cleaners and detergents has become the norm both in the setting and at home. Each product comes with a COSHH sheet outlining detailed safety procedures in the case of contact with skin, eyes or ingestion. This doesn’t fill you with confidence regarding their impact on living organisms, and predictably evidence has demonstrated significant harm to both people and planet resulting from these chemicals.
Many contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which evaporate when used and form new chemicals, that negatively affect our health. Additionally, detergents often contain phosphorous and nitrogen based compounds, which can build up in our waterways (lakes and rivers) causing a process known as eutrophication. This starves the water and its inhabitants of oxygen and can lead to deadly effects for our wildlife. Most of these harsh chemicals also come in single use plastic bottles, contributing further to the plastic crisis.
What can we do?
There are plenty of environmentally friendly cleaning products available. These alternatives are non-hazardous both during and after use when they are washed down the sink, and are equally as effective as conventional cleaning agents. Many of the latest products from companies like Biovation are supplied in bulk and diluted with water at the point of use, making them better from both a transport and a single use plastics point of view. While, Biovation products are made from complex mixtures of helpful bacteria and their enzymes, effective cleaning can also be achieved by using natural household ingredients such as vinegar and baking soda. There is also potential for positive change in the detergents we select for clothes and dish washing.
Paper products in the form of paper hand towels, tissues and toilet paper all add up to a lot of paper waste each day. The demand for virgin wood to make these products is contributing unnecessarily to deforestation and threatening biodiversity. By switching to recycled paper, it is possible to significantly reduce your carbon footprint. We can also support the sustainable management of forest ecosystems by buying FSC certifiedpaper products whenever possible.
Articles and websites to widen your knowledge
A comparison of the GHG emissions caused by manufacturing tissue paper from virgin pulp or recycled waste paper (Scientific Article)
Toxic Chemicals in Cleaning Products
Three main harmful chemicals are commonly found in cleaning products: The Toxic Trio.
Parabens are the first group. They are frequently used as an antimicrobial and antifungal agent and negatively impact humans when they’re absorbed into the skin. They have been linked with breast cancer, hormone disruption, skin irritation, reproduction issues and more! Whilst many have been banned, some are still in use and should be avoided such as: methylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben.
The second group is Pthalates. These are used in synthetic fragrances and therefore can be found in various products, from deodorant to luxury perfumes and shampoos. They disrupt our hormones and have been linked to early puberty in girls and breast cancer! Some have been banned in the EU however this doesn’t include the commonly used diethyl phthalate (DEP). Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to avoid phthalates as the chemicals used in fragrances don’t have to be specified. However, by purchasing fragrance-free products we can steer clear of these harmful ingredients.
The final toxic chemical is Triclosan, a commonly used antibacterial agent in soaps and cleaning products. Its use may affect the body’s hormonal systems (e.g. the thyroid), disrupt breast development and contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. While it has been banned in the US, this is not the case in the UK. However, the EU ensures that its use is restricted.
Plastic-Free Periods and Personal Care
Over a lifetime, an individual can greatly reduce their plastic use by altering their period products. Conventional pads and tampons are predominantly made of plastic and harsh chemicals which persist in landfill for years after a single use. The graphic below shows that in a single year, an individual can use approximately 264 plastic-based period products. In the UK alone it is estimated that period products contribute up to 200,000 tonnes of waste per year. There are several great alternatives available, such as re-useable pads and menstrual cups, which have a much smaller impact on the environment and your health!
Simple switches can be made for personal care products, such as shampoo bars and metal razors. Meanwhile, by purchasing ethical and environmentally friendly cosmetic products we can look after our skin whilst protecting the environment and ending animal abuse.