Marketplace investigation reveals the truth behind environmental claims
CBC News · Posted: Sep 14, 2012 7:41 PM ET | Last Updated: September 14, 2012
**UPDATE** In 2012, when this investigation was aired Marketplace listed 10 products they considered the worst for Greenwashing. I did a search and found 6 of the listed products no longer available but we still have the four products below that you may want to steer clear of if you are trying to use products that are safe for you, your loved ones and the environment. Support companies who are transparant
Biodegradable, natural and non-toxic are environmentally friendly promises plastered across many household products, but a CBC Marketplace investigation found that a number of them amount to little more than greenwashing.
"There's so much greenwash on shelves today, it's just overwhelming," said Adria Vasil, a columnist and author of the Ecoholic book series. "It's like a tsunami of greenwash really."
Figuring out whether products are actually environmentally friendly can be challenging since companies don't have to post the ingredients on cleaning products.
"For companies, they think, 'Consumers aren't looking too deeply. We can bamboozle them.'" said Marc Stoiber, who worked in advertising for 20 years but now helps companies go green.
Ecoholic author Vasil worked with Marketplace to examine environmental claims on household products and created the following Top 10 list of lousy labels.
1. Dawn Antibacterial dish soap
The labels on Dawn's antibacterial dish soap feature baby seals and ducklings with the promise that "Dawn helps save wildlife." Dawn donates soap to clean up animals after oil spills and gives money to rescue groups, but the product itself contains an ingredient harmful to animals.
Triclosan, an antibacterial agent, was recently declared officially toxic to aquatic life and it is an ingredient environmental groups have called for to be banned. "We don't need more of this in our rivers and streams," said Vasil. "And it's certainly not saving wildlife."
Proctor & Gamble, maker of Dawn products, refused an interview request by Marketplace. In a statement, the company said, "All of our Dawn dishwashing products and ingredients are in compliance with current legal and regulatory requirements in Canada."
2. Organic Melt ice remover
One of the key concerns around using road salt to melt ice is the damage salt does to aquatic life when it reaches rivers, streams and groundwater. Organic Melt ice remover advertises itself as being "environmentally safe" and an "agricultural-based product" with sugar beets.
When Marketplace checked with the company, it revealed that only three per cent of its product is sugar beets by weight and the rest is rock salt — that despite the fact that the ingredient list puts beets first.
There's no requirement for companies to put the main ingredient first on the list. The company, Eco-solutions, told Marketplace that using sugar beets makes the product work better so less is needed and overall there's less salt going into the environment.
3. Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner
On the label, this cleaning product states it's non-toxic. But a Marketplace expert determined that one ingredient in the cleaner, 2-butoxyethanol, is listed by Environment Canada as a toxic health hazard that can damage red blood cells.
Vasil notes that no one is policing use of terms such as non-toxic on household products. The toxin is also not listed on the back of the product because there's currently no requirement for ingredient lists on cleaning products. "No one is forcing them to list their ingredients and to come clean about what's actually in the product," said Vasil.
Simple Green responded to questions from Marketplace about its non-toxic claim in a statement. "We have had independent laboratories … conduct a host of testing on our product as a whole to confirm that the complete formula is non-toxic."
4. Raid EarthBlends Multi-bug Killer
With an insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower, Raid EarthBlends Multi-bug Killer touts itself as an alternative insect control solution. Despite its naturally derived component, the label warns users to avoid contact with skin and clothes, and not to inhale the mist when spraying it.
"A lot of things in nature are actually dangerous and toxic," said Vasil. "Not all natural things are good for you. And this is a perfect example."
The product states it can be used for bed bugs, despite that in many parts of Canada, homeowners are banned from using such pesticides on their lawns. "Banned from your backyard, but OK for your bed?" questioned Vasil.
In a statement, the maker, SC Johnson, said it is "committed to using sustainable ingredients in our products" and the products are "safe and effective when used as directed."