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Have you been ‘greenwashed’ by eco products?


Green cleaning is great for the conscience, but is it really that good for the environment? Do your eco products live up to the hype that’s printed on their labels?

Green has gone mainstream, which means the green pound is big business. Supermarkets dedicate whole shelves to products that can help make us feel like we’re doing our bit.

But I’m a bit of a scrooge about the idea you can buy your way to greenness. Part of me suspects that ‘green’ products are being sold to me not because of the decline of the hedgerow, or to save the fish, but because there’s money to be made.

Approach eco products with caution

And I’m not alone. Which? research found that people are pretty cynical about green claims – and that sometimes it’s justified. We discovered that some of the claims that come on these products are poorly explained, exaggerated or in some cases simply false.

Take the iron that has an eco setting – except it’s just a standard iron with a relabelled dial. Or the loo cleaner that boldly states it doesn’t contain phosphates. All well and good – except none of the standard loo cleaners we’ve looked at contain phosphates.

Many eco cleaning products state that they’re better for rivers and waterways but the claims we looked at weren’t backed up by enough evidence.

So if you’re out shopping and the green claim on the packet isn’t explained or it’s not clear why it’s better for the environment than the product next to it, proceed with caution.

What makes a product ‘green’?

It’s not all black and white though. What did shake my scepticism is that it’s not all about what’s in the bottle or even what they’re claiming. Sometimes it’s about how the product was made to begin with.

Many of the eco cleaning products we looked at are made using sustainable ingredients and many of the companies who produce them work hard to reduce the carbon footprint that comes with manufacturing anything.

But the question still remains: why are they feeding my scepticism when a clear explanation of what makes their products ‘green’ could go such a long way to restoring my faith?

Do you buy eco products and do you trust the green claims they’re making? Have you bought a product that upon reflection you suspect isn’t that green after all?

jojo says:
22 July 2010

I've been buying 'green' cleaning stuff for ages now and I'm quite gutted to hear they can't live up to what they claim. But I do find it quite hard to believe that they aren't kinder to the environment than conventional cleaners – they seem so much harsher in comparison. Surely those bright yellow toilet cleaners are worse than the Ecover one?

Richard says:
22 July 2010

I dunno about those yellow toilet cleaners. One snag with the eco stuff seems to me to be that it all goes into the same water treatment plants anyway. OK, so that's not the end of the story, but just how important is the impact on aquatic life systems and the ecosystem in general?


I just want a clear system that tells me I'm buying products that do least damage to the environment, without having to have a degree in the subject.

The sooner the experts can agree on that, the better!

Ren says:
23 July 2010

The products may be hype..
but the effect on the rivers, land, animals and humans that a vast majority of products create is devestating, altering the very genetics of life. No I am not into scare mongering – just facts.
Just research the ingredients on the back of a toilet cleaner..

Paul Bishop says:
23 July 2010

I think many of the green claims seem very selective in the comparisons they make. There is probably little doubt that trains use less fuel than planes per passenger mile. However planes just need a runway at each end. When railways are built huge amounts of energy is used making cuttings, building bridges and tunnels. Much of this is already in place but there are still major projects like the new line from London to Birmingham and the recently built lines to mainland Europe. In addition the thousands of miles of railway line and overhead cables can't last forever. The energy used replacing these must be huge


One of the difficulties I find is with the Eco products which claim "doesnt contain XYZ" when the same could be said of most of the normal big brands.

pickle says:
24 July 2010

They may be ok for the environment, but most work inefficiently or not bat all. I prefer to use something which cleans properly. Sewage works usually have a treatment which neutralises undesirable chemicals.

David McGuinness says:
24 July 2010

I do not trust any product that claims to be Eco friendly. It is just a marketing ploy

Pete Massingham says:
25 July 2010

There is undoubtedly an opportunity for making money on misleading claims for being eco friendly, but some products are more adverse on the environment than others. You need a little patience to see/research what these chemicals might be, but this is a good thing in the long term. Personally, I have little time for people who deny the fact we have severely poisoned our environment to the point where various life forms can no longer thrive. Our idea that things are clean only if they have that glaring white finish from chemical enhancers is naive! This is our kids futures, and other species futures we are considering. Unfortunately, sewage works do not remove the contaminants as many believe. We all use too much of stuff we really do not need. The cleaning companies have conditioned people into thinking we face disease or catastrophe if we don’t squirt, mix, or spray this or that chemical into the atmosphere or water supply. It’s economic engineering at it’s worst and Government needs to take the lead on regulating it. They wont of course, because they are stuck in a system of capital profiteering which feeds their tax demands. So, some products are genuinely eco friendly and some are a rip off. It’s up to you to read a little on the web to ascertain what the real facts are!