Today I cleaned the bathroom…lucky me. As my third sustainable activity, I’m phasing out my store-bought cleaning supplies in favour of more environmentally (and hopefully wallet) friendly alternatives. I’ve got a spray bottle of diluted vinegar (I used a hot water:vinegar ratio of about 4:1), a box of baking soda, an old rag, and the toilet bowl brush. What more could a girl want? (Apparently, a brush for scrubbing baking soda in between the shower tiles…but that’s it – great success!)
Although baking soda proved to be an amazing scouring agent, I had to use a bit more elbow grease to scrub the shower – but I’m not sure if that’s because of the cleaning product or because I don’t clean the bathroom as often with a four month old. Also, it turns out that newspaper really does do a great job on glass. The mirror is streak free.
I’ve been researching some other products that I’ll be phasing out this month…but more on those later.
Why not just buy “green” cleaning products? Because, while they may be greener than conventional cleaners on the market, they’re still not as green as I’d like them to be. Some green cleaning products are great. They don’t contain harsh chemicals, fragrances and other carcinogens and many are biodegradable. Others just contain less of those substances than conventional product or exclude those that are “proven” to be toxic or harmful. As with all things green, there’s a lot of greenwashing (pun not intentional…it was unavoidable – believe me, I tried!) going on.
“Green” terms on labels are largely unregulated (same goes for certain terms on food packaging)…100% pure…pure what? All natural?…lots of dangerous or toxic substances are naturally occurring. It’s difficult to trust the language on eco-friendly product labeling. One of the easiest thing you can do is check for an independent certification. The Eco-Label Program, Green Seal and EUROPA – Ecolabel are all recognized environmental certification programmes in Canada (here’s a list of certification programmes provided by Public Works and Government Services Canada). These programs limit known carcinogens and toxins and require products to meet specified biodegradability standards.
And then there’s my least favourite part – the container. Cleaning products, especially those in spray bottles produce packaging waste (on top of the environmental impacts related to production and transportation). Even though they (hopefully) go into the recycling bin, they are often comprised of several different types of plastics – and when it comes to recycling, not all plastics are created equal and not all recycling programmes are created equal. Ever wonder why in some places you can recycle a pop bottle, but not a yoghurt container? It’s because some plastics are more recyclable than others (see this article on decoding recycling codes).
This means that in most places, the sprayer on a spray bottle (which is comprised of several different types of plastics all joined together and possibly a metal spring) may not be recyclable. So even if you lovingly place it in your recycling bin…it may end up in landfill because, what facility has time to painstakingly take apart the millions of spray bottles being thrown out every year? The best thing you can do is re-use your spray bottles and there are lots of places around were you can buy bulk cleaning products, but that poses its own set of problems if you’re starting with a bottle filled with toxic chemicals. So my solution will be to avoid bringing chemical-filled spray bottles into my house in the first place.