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A few days ago, someone posted the following as a comment to my blog:

“I wonder if you also realise that its not just the cleaning products that cause the damage?

Shampoos, creams, shower gels, make-up and all manner of gorgeous things that many of us love to keep us looking good and smelling nice contain the SAME ingredients that are in cleaning products.
An igredient that de-greases engines is in 90% of shampoos and the main ingredient in our face creams is in anti-freeze, dog food and paints. Yuch!!

These are doing just as much damage. Not only to the eco system but to our bodies as they harm us indide too – even though we are only putting them on the outside.”

I didn’t approve the comment because what followed was a plug for this person’s company, which makes all sorts of personal care products etc.  I am more than happy to have people post links that promote the philosophy that I support, i.e. information and knowledge about how to live in a more ecologically friendly way, be that around food, cleaning products or other aspects of health or the environment.  But I can’t support links that encourage people to keep on with their current rate of consumption through buying something that has been branded ‘eco-friendly’ rather than changing their habits completely.

Was this person’s company promoting the former?  Judging by the number of health and beauty products this company sells (plus the fact that it presents like a pyramid scheme), I would have to say yes.  But I do think the first half of her email relays an important message.  Since I can’t edit people’s comments, I cut and pasted the above and deleted the original.  So thanks Jan Australia for your input.  I’m sorry I can’t allow you to advertise your company products here, but I appreciate the general message you are trying to promote.

Even before I started my eat-local project, I had been converting my house to as ecologically friendly an environment as possible.  This is part of a larger life-project that began over 10 years ago when my dog Jake became ill and eventually died from kidney failure.  Kidneys flush the body of toxins, and clearly his got worn out.  As a result of extensive research into what could have led to this, I have detoxified my home, step-by-step, to the best of my ability.  I put in that qualifier because I can’t eliminate the toxin in my carpets, vinyl floors or house foundation (as just a few examples) in my rental home.  But anything that I could change – to the best of my awareness and knowledge – I have.

This includes, as Jan mentioned above, the horrific toxins found in commercial pet food.  I will write more about food and pets at a later time, but a good place to start reading up on what may be in the food your feed your pets is The Dog Food Project.  

Commercial pet food is just one of many examples of how people change brands without changing habits.  With the now almost common-place scares around contaminated pet food – which has caused the deaths of thousands of animals, although just how many, no one knows – many people are becoming aware of the crap that ends up in the bags they open to feed their pets.  So they have started looking for safer and healthier options.  Indeed, the high-end kibble industry has mushroomed in the last couple of years.  Every time I go into a pet store, I find new brands, and new versions (bison! venison!  duck!) of kibble.  But these are just a substitution of one commercial product for another.  Sure the new product is considered ‘healthier,’ just like commercial organic products are considered healthier than conventional.  But are they?

As I have stated before, my personal stand on this is that no, they are not.  Sticking with the pet food example, the problem goes well beyond the shocking facts that many commercial kibbles contain species inappropriate foods such as corn, ash and even ground-up euthanized dogs and cats from shelters (complete with flea collars).  The bigger problem is that our animal companions should not be eating highly processed food, day in and day out for their entire lives, in the first place.  That this food is made from “all human grade” or “holistically balanced” or “organic” products, or that it contains “species appropriate” ingredients such as venison or bison, does not negate the fact that it is still fast food for animals.  Highly processed, cooked, industrially produced food.  They simply shouldn’t be eating it at all.

What our pets should really be eating is fresh, whole, locally and ecologically raised foods, just like us.  But to feed them this way would entail changing our habits.  And few of us wish to do that!  Heaven forbid.  This of course is perpetuated by many myths around the dangers of not feeding pet-food, but the bigger issue is that most people like ripping open a bag, scooping breakfast, lunch and dinner into a bowl, and voila!  Done with feeding the dog.  We like to feed ourselves the same way to0 (frozen dinners anyone?)  So we switch to the ‘organic’ or ‘holistic blend’ (if I had a dollar for every time someone proudly told me that’s what they are feeding their poor dog, I wouldn’t be struggling for funding…!) and feel we’ve done our duty.

This is also true of our cleaning and personal care products.  Sure, we can go out and switch to a label that is “eco-friendly” but is that really going to make a difference?  If I have 10 bottles of eco-branded creams and gels in my bathroom instead of 10 bottles of mainstream creams and gels, am I really saving the environment?  

This has been a tough one for me.  I had many favourite products that I was convinced I needed to stay young and beautiful.  But over the last couple of years I’ve let much of that go.  I’ve given up my shower and shave gels, replacing them with simple bars of glycerin soaps that are sold without packaging (I was delighted to discover that these produce a lather that works as well or better than any shaving gel I ever bought!).  I switched from  laundry detergent and a multitude of cleaning products to using pure soap flakes, borax, vinegar and baking soda.  I use lavender scented water to dissuade bugs from coming into my house and so on.

I have a ways to go though.  I still very occasionally use highly diluted bleach (I’ve tried the “green” bleach and found it doesn’t do the trick when it comes to keeping down mould in the bathroom), and I love my make-up (I buy MAC cosmetics, which once was a Canadian company and I believe still recycles all it’s own packaging and doesn’t test on animals).  I also have yet to find a ecologically friendly way to wash my hair that allows me to go out in public and feel good about how I look.  

Vanity prevails, I’m afraid.  But I’m working on that! If you peek in my bathroom, you will find one bottle of shampoo (Aveda – a relatively environmentally aware company), one bottle of conditioner (not sure it this is really necessary), one bar of soap, non-fluoride tooth paste and some make-up.  That’s it.  My once cluttered bathroom is very zen these days after having been stripped of its former decore of dozens of horrid plastic bottles.  Lately I’m not even using any kinds of skin creams as I haven’t been having any trouble with my skin in months now.  

I suspect if we eat well, sleep regularly and live more slowly, most of these products become unnecessary.  And using fewer products, not simply different ones, is what we need to be aiming for.

2 Responses

  1. Hi, This summary of alternatives to cleaning products is really useful. When Sophia was born, we did a clean-up of our cleaning products too and it is scary when you start looking at labels closely. We have gone ‘organic’ with a lot of products but I suspect, as you say, that many are actually redundant. One good thing: we don’t have a dryer. We have a bizarre contraption that looks like it should be on a boat as it is complete with rigging and you load it up with wet laundry and hoist it up to dry.

    One thought about your job prospects: how about “green” book reviewer and product reviewer? Is any mainstream newspaper doing these kinds of consumer reviews. And, if not, shouldn’t they be? And shouldn’t they hire you to do them?????

  2. Hi Barbara! Thanks for the vote of confidence. Yes, they absolutely should have me doing these reviews 🙂 Except that I am such a ‘purist’ that it may be tough for any to pass. Perhaps I can learn to be diplomatic enough in my language to keep from being fired…

    Your drying contraption sounds great. I just have a long piece of rope stretching from one side of my basement to the other, and also some free standing racks to put out in the garden. Not that I can do that anymore because I pulled up half my patio to plant a garden, and what little space I have left is occupied by my patio set. Something that would hoist up would be ideal!

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