Why being ‘green’ ain’t that easy

I have to admit that I’ve been a bit distressed over the trendiness of being green. Visit any progressive-leaning blog/forum and people are laying out their green creds as if that’ll make them cooler on the intertubes. Some blogs even have people listing all the stuff they do to be green. On one hand, it is getting new information out there to wasteful polluters and may even change a few habits. On the other, it reeks of look-at-me-ness that borders on tacky. The one thing these new greenies fail to realize is that a lot of the stuff they do by choice, poor people around the world by necessity.  I’m not knocking those people who have changed their habits to be friendlier to this sphere. I just hope there is more thinking involved instead of the bandwagon-hopping I’m witnessing. I always urge people to read the labels, make sure what they’re buying really is “organic” or “natural”.  Which is why, when saw the headline: Popular ‘green’ products test positive for toxicant (registration needed) in the newspaper this morning, I called 6 of the products would be listed before I even read the article.

New tests of 100 “natural” and “organic” soaps, shampoos and other consumer products show that nearly half of them contained a cancer-causing chemical that is a byproduct of petrochemicals used in manufacturing.

Many items that tested positive for the carcinogen are well-known brands, including Kiss My Face, Alba, Seventh Generation and Nature’s Gate products, sold in retail stores across the nation.

It amuses me that after all the recalls we’ve had people still believe that the FDA and USDA are on the job keeping us safe. Maybe they don’t realized that back in ’02 the Bush Administration relaxed the rules for what is “organic” at the behest of multinationals like Phillip-Morris, creating the USDA National Organic Program. (This goes along with rule relaxing for air polluters, dairy farmers and miners in 2001). The NOP even created a “seal of approval”. Personally, I try to stay away from those items unless I can verify. When I look to buy organic, I look for the OCIA seal or the CCOF seal, even though the USDA rules are making those labels go away. Otherwise, I do my research, both have search engines on their websites where you can check out a product to see if it’s “super-certified”. Or, I buy locally from growers and makers I trust.

Some organic company owners said it is deceptive for many products to be called natural when the carcinogenic compound indicates that petrochemicals are used in their manufacture.

No standards govern the words natural or organic for personal care products. But a few companies, including TerrEssentials, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and Sensibility Soaps Inc., which makes the Nourish brand, have certified their products as organic under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food standards.

“It makes it really difficult for us to communicate real organic when our little voice gets lost in this sea of products that are all claiming to meet the [USDA organic] standard when, in fact, they don’t,” said Diana Kaye, co-founder of TerrEssentials, a small Maryland company. All six TerrEssentials soaps and other products tested were free of 1,4-dioxane.

A mere glance at the labels of these products show that they’re not a green as they claim to be, but green enough for that USDA seal.  For example, Seventh Generation lists all their ingredients on their website and that was enough to make me never by their products.  In my mind, it’s impossible to have a cleaning agent that is purely organic unless it’s a lemon.  I use method products.  While they’re not organic (certified or otherwise), their products are derived from nature (check the ingredient lists) and the bonus is that their packaging is 100% biodegradable.  I like the fact that most of the stuff in a method product is growing in my garden.

Most traditional soaps and shampoos contain 1,4-dioxane. But the discovery that the chemical is present in many housecleaning and personal care products, including some for babies, that are advertised as being natural, organic or “green” comes as somewhat of a surprise.

“For companies to knowingly or even carelessly put a carcinogen into commerce in this day and age is barbaric, I think, particularly products that have the moniker of natural or self-proclaimed ‘organic,’ ” said consumer advocate and author David Steinberg, who directed the study.

Now, this isn’t to be alarmist.  Carcinogens have always been in a lot of stuff women use, especially in makeup and hygiene products.  That’s old news and one of the main reasons I never got into wearing makeup (the other being that makeup application is a time sucker for me).  Still, the past few decades have seen a decrease in these carcinogens and many companies have been making a concerted effort to move away from them, especially once it hits the news that they’re killing their customers.  Luckily, there are a lot of natural skin care companies out there that aren’t owned by multinationals and sold at your local big box discounter.  You’ll have to order online or go to your local farmer’s market or organic store, but they’re out there.  Being a woman of color makes it a little harder, but luckily there are a lot of sisters out there who not only make organic makeup and skin care products, but they blend with skin tones from Nordic to Gobi to Sahara.   This holds moreso for those of us in Los Angeles.

But while the article focuses on skin care and household cleaning products, please remember that the food you eat has also been “organic certified” with those relaxed standards.  Horizon Organic immediately comes to mind.  Horizon used to be a truly organic dairy farm.  That is until it was bought by Dean Foods.  Since then, the Horizon Organic brand that many people loved and trusted so many years ago, bears no resemblance to what is being sold in stores.

All I’m asking is that you take the time to educate yourself on what you’re putting in and on your body.  Sure, it’s easier to watch TV or hope that someone tells you something, but even that’s asking for trouble.  Look at all the misguided hoax emails that get passed around daily.   Be wary that just because something says “natural” or “organic”, especially if it’s from a multinational, it most likely isn’t.  It’s like those Lite and Low-fat labels.  Most of those products have more sugars and/or sodium than the regular brand.  It’s a balancing act.  I don’t think it’s paramount to use organic products to clean your tub, hell some of tubs need to be nuked, but if you do, just make sure you’re getting what you pay for.  The companies know that people have been conditioned to believe that using natural products means you have to pay more than if they dump a bunch of man-made chemicals in your stuff.  If you’re gonna pay that $1 – $4 more, shouldn’t you get no chemicals?


6 thoughts on “Why being ‘green’ ain’t that easy

  1. Great post faboo. Here’s one you might want to have around the house. You can clean with it. Kill weeds with it and even put it in your food, the kids could eat it and it’s very cheap…white vinegar. The problem I have with organics and I learned this from a naturopath is that they don’t have a good shelf life. When they tested peanut butter at health food stores (the type that’s made fresh from the ground nuts) they found mold. I’ve also found that the effectiveness of cleaners goes after about 6 to 9 months. And yes most makeup has high levels of lead, chromium and other heavy metals. Again the organic makeups can go bad in short order.


  2. Oh, shelf-life, good point…The people I get my makeup from only sell in 1oz sizes. For someone who wears makeup everyday, that should last at least 2 – 3 months. The shelf-life is only 2 – 3 months, so that works out. Major retail makeup has a shelf-life of 4 – 6 months and there’s more chemicals.

    And as far as organic food goes, there’s a reason I don’t keep any on hand. If I go to the farmer’s market to pick up food, we’re eating it that night. Even two days later, it’s practically inedible and goes straight to the compost heap. I’m very wary of “organic” items in grocery stores, so I just stay away.


  3. Thanks for your post. It is scary that products we’re told are safe for us and the planet are sometimes not as we expected. I make sure I tell everyone about Shaklee Get Clean products, as well as all of their natural skin care and nutrition products. This company is amazing, and everyone should take a second to learn about it. Yes I loved it so much I sell the products, but thats second to my passion to educate folk’s on safe alternitives that aren’t available by standard means. I hope you will check out Shaklee at http://www.myshakblog.com or http://www.shaklee.net/earthforce

    Keep the posts coming! Jeff


  4. White Vin, salt, lemons and ice. I use it on most everything and incombination with each other and when it’s really bad, I pull out the baking soda (just not with the vin unless it’s a pipe issue).

    Now, ask me where I found out about those items…come on ask me!

    Waiting tables. Bleach is too harsh for the restaurant’s wood surfaces and for waitress hands, so they’d fill spray bottles with vin, ice and lemon. Salt was added when an abrassive was needed. Take for instance stubborn coffee stains, take a scouring pad or sponge and spray some vin and fresh squeezed lemon juice on the stain. Put some salt on the sponge and pretty much rub everything away. If you have a stained coffee pot, put some ice in it, squeeze a couple of lemons into the pot and drop them in and then pour about a table spoon of salt. Now, just twirl the pot and watch the shine come back like the damn thing were brand new again!!


  5. BG: Your post made me smile…see I grew up poor and I grew up in a family where waste wasn’t an option. We used those same things. When I was a kid I learned how to make tinctures and now I do that for my cleaning products with stuff from my garden. I was just thinking how I need to get some ice trays so that I can freeze some of my herbs. Last year, I was filling up little glasses with some herbs to add to the vinegar/lemon concoction.


  6. hm, never tried that. Growing up, we just didn’t use chemicals, mom wasn’t raised that way, although she did swear by Borax. I didn’t even know what bleach was, we used borax. And when my kiddling was in diapers, I used borax and soda to wash her diapers. They were the best diapers, kooshies. I still have them, too. Planning to pass those cloth ones on to my kid someday.


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