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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!

alan says:
25 July 2010

i have just changed my electricity supplier from NIE to Airtricity who promote their supply as Green at a 8% guaranteed discount to september 2011.
When pushed, the rep admitted that my electricity would not be Green and if I wanted Green energy they could supply but at the same price that I was currently paying before the change.
So Green is just a con!!!

graham whitlock says:
27 July 2010

Sadly the climate change. global warming eco friendly industry appears to be turning all of this into a money making idea. We are paying more for getting less. Look at road tax now on cars, I have just renewed mine and paid £205 but will it improve the roads? of course not.


"Once bitten twice shy".
I’ve used quite a few Ecover products for several years – washing powder, fabric softener, hand soap and dishwasher tablets being the main ones. I find that hey work extremely well and that my fabrics, etc., end up smelling of nothing at all or of a slight natural-smelling scent, rather than a horrible "Blackpool pleasure beach" sickly sweet chemical smell.
BUT ….. they don’t half cost compared to conventional products, even when I get the bottles refilled at a local store which has the Ecover refill system in place – something else that I like about them.
Then to read the Which report and fins that in fact many mainstream products, at a fraction of the price, as as kind to the environment really shook me, coming as it did after I had an EXCEPTIONALLY bad experience with a white goods item.
Without going into all the gory details on here, my 26 year old washer finally became irreparable and I had to buy new. As I have solar water heating I wanted one with a hot water inlet and I also wanted one with good energy efficiency. I ended up with a premium priced model which, from day 1, was a huge let down: it didn’t take in any hot water at all, despite the hot valve and enviro claims, it washed very badly and rinsed even more badly, worse still it used around 4 times as much electricity for a wash than my old one had but worst of the lot it was terribly unreliable and the service under warranty was diabolical (9 weeks to get a part the first time). The upshot was that when it blew up the 3rd time in less than 2 years (and it had a 10 year guarantee on the motor!) I scrapped it (NOT environmentally friendly at all) and bought a 2nd hand 23 year old one which now washes far better than the "new" one, and best of all, uses less than a third of the power the "new" one did to do a wash.
I’m sorry, but the Which report on cleaning products and the washer experience have made me change from Eco warrior to Eco sceptic. How can we ever trust the claims when we have experiences like these?

Petor says:
29 July 2010

I have just bought a new washing machine (a best buy in Which?) and it has three "Eco Cycles" that wash with cold water. Has anyone any experience of these and are they any good?


Petor – my limited experience of Eco cycles is that they make the wash times ridiculously long (for example on one machine I have seen in action, just over 3 hours for an "easy care" cycle) and that the cleaning results are really very poor – mediocre at best.
I have heard tell that in a worst case scenario the energy used to operate the motor in the machine for the extended cycle could equal that which would be used on a cycle which heated the water up as normal and only ran for half the time or less.
A good place to look for detailed information is the whitegoodshelp web site – if you Google washerhelp you should find it.
One manufacturer that I know of makes a machine which takes in hot water from the cylinder or boiler in your home and then washes at whatever temperature that is, with no extra heating at all. It only does this on cycles which are "hot", e.g cottons, as the water in your cylinder could be too hot for woollens or non-fast colours. If you have solar water heating this should be a great advantage to you, However, although I know that the machine exists, I do not yet know anyone who has bought it so I have no hands-on stories of success or otherwise.