Have you been reaching for the laundry detergents that label themselves “green” because you believe — based on the labels on the very products — that they contain no petrochemicals? I have. So have many others. And many people are presumably as dismayed as I am to discover that some big “green” brands still contain as much as 38% petroleum-derived ingredients.
An analysis, carried out by the CBC, scrutinized three major “green” detergent brands: Sunlight Green Clean, Clorox GreenWorks and Purex Natural Elements. Of the three, only Clorox Green Works was found to be mostly “natural,” with 98% of its ingredients found to be plant-based. Sunlight Green Clean contained 62% plant-based ingredients, and Purex Natural Elements contained 70% plant-based ingredients. With the remainder of both detergents, over 30%, consisting of chemicals derived from petroleum.
Sunlight, at least, has never made any claims of being entirely natural – its label simply states that it “includes” plant based ingredients. Purex Natural Elements, however, does claim to be over 95% “natural.”
Part of the issue is that there is no legal definition for “natural” as it applies to products such as laundry detergent — so nothing prevents companies from labeling products as “natural,” implying plant-derived or otherwise less environmentally harmful ingredients, when they are in reality significantly petroleum-based. And while Purex defends its detergent by stating that it discloses the list of ingredients on every bottle (therefore it wasn’t hiding anything!), most laypeople are not chemists and are not able to distinguish a petrochemical on a label from a “natural” or plant-derived chemical.
Ultimately, while improving the non-petroleum based content of everyday items such as laundry detergent is an excellent step forward, both Purex and Sunlight appear to have engaged in significant greenwashing on these products in the hopes of duping the consumer.
Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt on Flickr