Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Scared of "Green" Household Products? Don't be!

Yesterday, around 8pm, I found myself in Taber, AB looking for somewhere to buy shampoo. Taber's not that big, so not a lot of places are open past 8pm, but Wal-Mart was. Now, normally I buy bio-degradable everything, shampoo and conditioner included, and I was seriously doubting the likelihood of finding any body care products that met this one, simple criterion. Usually, I go to London Drugs and get Live Clean, which is a little more expensive than your run-of-the-mill shampoo, but it works and it's biodegradable.

So, I got to the shampoo isle and quickly scanned for anything advertising itself as being bio-degradable. Then, I started checking the backs of the bottles that said "all-natural", but still no luck. Then I started checking the backs of anything with any reference to having naturally-derived anything, but I still couldn't find any that were bio-degradable.

Then, with a bit of a smirk, I decided to check the ones that were "Australian" or "European", since those places tend to be more enviro-friendly. I did it more to amuse myself, because I assumed that "Australian" and "European" were just marketing labels and had nothing to do with the values of the people living there, but I was pleasantly surprised to realise that most of the "Australian" and "European" shampoos were bio-degradable! Including some of the cheapest options available. I grabbed the cheapest bio-degradable stuff there, which was $3 for a huge bottle, and tried it this morning. It works just as well as any other shampoo.

My conclusion: there is officially no excuse. Cut the crap and make everything bio-degradable already. When I made the decision to switch to all bio-degradable household products, I braced myself for a price increase and possibly decreased function, but I have found over and over again that there is either very little difference, or that the greener option is actually cheaper. If this hasn't been your experience, perhaps you're a victim of green-washing (marketing to the enviro-conscience, with a steep mark-up of course).

In fact, there are cases where I'm amazed at the high cost, inconvenience, and inefficiency of certain products. Let's take laundry detergent powder. If you buy 240 louds' worth of Tide from, it'll cost you $53.70. If you buy 640 louds' worth of Country Save from, it'll cost you $50.75. Add to this the fact that one box of Tide is about four times the size of a box of Country Save, and that Country Save works better (less residue, better stain-fighting), and you realise that Tide is making you pay for them to fill a box up with a whole lot of inert, useless powder, then charging more because it's a bigger box and looks like it should be a better value. Here's a page on the Country Save website that says that it's even worse - the amount of loads that Tide claims to give you is total BS. Now, I know it's the Country Save website, but it seems right to me, based on my experience when I used Tide before I switched to Country Save. I actually have half a box of Tide sitting in my hallway because I can't stand the residue that all that inert powder leaves on my clothes.

Surface cleaners are another thing. I've started making my own cleaners and find that Borax, lemon juice (or vinegar), and water will clean just about anything at a fraction of the monetary cost, and a much, much reduced cost to the planet. Borax by itself works just as well as Ajax, isn't toxic, and doesn't make you want to gag and die if you accidentally inhale it. If you get one things from this post, get this: Borax is freaking awesome. Get it in the laundry isle. Here's a link for uses for Borax. I make almost all of my household cleaners. If you do a search, you'll find innumerable recipes for cleaners that are all very simple, very inexpensive, and don't smell like an old lady's perfume.

There are many more examples, and perhaps I will make a post dedicated to inexpensive, functional, green alternatives to common household items someday, but my point is this: A great deal of the environmentally-damaging products out there are completely unnecessary. Consumers need to take a few extra seconds on their shopping trip to check the back of the packaging. Pick products that come in a box rather than wrapped in plastic. Move your hands a few inches to the right and grab the hand soap that's dio-degradable (and costs the same). It's so simple that I'm finding it increasingly obnoxious that people still go for the toxic stuff. Toxins aren't even good for you!


  1. This was great, very informative! I want to switch to biodegradable products, but don't know enough about it. I'd love a post about green alternatives.

  2. I'll do it! My people need me. :-P

  3. umm, how about super simple homemade stuff from baking soda and vinegar and biodegradeable dish soap? Ive been using that for two years, and it's so cheap it's practically free!

    think $50 for laundry soap is cheap? how about my homemade version which does 175 loads for about $2? ha! I love it.

    I even wash my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. it doesnt strip all the good stuff off your hair, but it makes it clean and soft. check 'er out:

  4. I've tried baking soda/apple cider vinegar and it didn't work so well. I blame Edmonotn's hard water. But I do still alternate between regular conditioner and diluted apple cider vinegar.

    I'm curious how you decide something is biodegradable. Some kind of symbol on the back? Or do you just recognize which ingredients are and which aren't? I know sodium laurel sulfate is supposed to be bad but it's in every thing that lathers so I don't know how to avoid it. I'm going to try making a shampoo out of Castile soap (, and see how that works.

    I bought Method's foaming handwash because I thought it would be better for the environment but it's pretty heavily scented and it still has sodium laurel sulfate. And we went through one $5 bottle in 3 weeks. Do you have a favourite hand soap that is good for the environment?