By: Van Burbach PhD, PG-Environmental Consultant Many people have the idea that since cleaning products are used to clean our homes of dirt, germs, and filth to give us a “clean” living environment, that they are safe for us and our planet; but this is not the case. Many common cleaning products you can find on your grocery store shelves, and possibly under your own kitchen sink, are extremely toxic and very harmful both to human beings and to the environment. Links between use of common household cleaners and asthma and other respiratory illnesses have been well established. In 2018, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine published the results of a 20-year study by scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway which found that using cleaning products can be as harmful to women’s respiratory health as smoking 20 cigarettes a day. Also, household cleaning products are responsible for nearly 10% of all toxic exposures reported to U.S. Poison Control Centers, many of which involve children. But these cleaners are also very harmful to the environment outside of our homes. The all-purpose cleaners, hand sanitizers, laundry detergents, dishwasher detergents, and other cleaning products we use get washed down our drains and into our sewer systems. They are often treated at wastewater treatment plants: but most wastewater treatment plants are not very effective at removing the toxic chemicals from these products, so they end up released into our lakes, rivers, and drinking water supplies. A 2002 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey tested streams across the United States and found traces of detergent in 69% of the streams, and disinfectants in 66% of the streams. Common household cleaning products often contain hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of chemicals, many of which are known to be toxic to humans as well as to fish, birds, plants, and other living organisms. Some are also known carcinogens. Many others of these chemicals have not been studied thoroughly enough to know what their possible toxicological impacts might be. One group of chemicals of concern are phosphates, often found in laundry and dishwasher detergent. When released into a lake or stream, phosphates act as fertilizers, promoting growth of algae that decrease the water’s oxygen content, killing fish and reducing biodiversity. Another group of chemicals of concern are alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which are surfactants that are added to many laundry detergents, stain removers, all-purpose cleaners, disinfectants, and degreasers. Some APEs break down into nonylphenol and octylphenol, which are more toxic and do not readily biodegrade. APEs have been shown to mimic the hormone estrogen, and their presence in water may be harming the reproduction and survival of salmon and other fish. It is not just the chemicals in our cleaning products that are the problem. The packaging those products come in can also have a very adverse impact on our environment. The proliferation of single-use plastic containers has caused major problems for landfills and recycling programs cannot keep up. In 2015, the EPA estimated that only 9.1% of plastic waste generated in the United States was recycled, and since China stopped accepting our recyclable waste, that number is probably lower now. All the excess plastic waste has caused a global crisis as these plastics end up in our waterways and eventually in our oceans. Shaklee has been a pioneer of non-toxic, earth-friendly cleaning products since the 1960s. Shaklee Basic H was one of the first official Earth Day products, and has been used by Jacques Cousteau, the Biosphere II project, the Whitehouse, and many environmental organizations and programs. Today, Shaklee is proud to offer a full line of household cleaning products that are free of toxic chemicals and are safe for you, your children, and the planet. And many of our cleaning products are concentrated, reducing the amount of plastic waste created. One bottle of Basic H2 can replace as many as 5000 bottles of other cleaners, keeping thousands of plastic bottles our of our waste stream. And you don’t have to sacrifice performance, as Shaklee cleaning products are amazingly effective.
Be the Solution! – Reducing your Waste Footprint Van Burbach, PhD, PG In the last 50 years the amount of solid waste generated in the United States has increased by over 250%, to over 262 million tons in 2015, of which over 13% are plastics! Globally, plastic waste has increased over 1500% between 1965 and 2015. Globally, we generate over 300 million metric tons of plastic waste annually and almost 8 million metric tons of that plastic ends up in the world's oceans annually, according to a 2015 study from UC Santa Barbara. This plastic waste can kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year. The problem is huge and can seem overwhelming, but what can we do about it? We got into this mess one piece of plastic at a time, and that is how we need to get out of it – one piece of plastic at a time. Each and every one of us has contributed to the problem, so each and every one of us has the opportunity to be a part of the solution. We have all heard the mantra “reduce, reuse, and recycle”, but most of our effort in recent years has focused on recycling with little attention being paid to reducing and reusing. Many people seem to have the mindset that if they drink their bottled water and through the bottle in the recycling bin instead of the trash, they are doing their part. What they don’t realize is how ineffective recycling can be. The Waste Management Hierarchy, which has been widely accepted by the EPA, environmentalists, and the waste industry, recognizes that reducing and reusing are the best ways to reduce the amount of waste we create. According to the EPA, 9.1% of plastic material generated in the U.S. Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) stream was recycled in 2015. Another 15.5% was combusted for energy, while 75.4% was sent to landfills. This is only counting the waste that makes it to a landfill or recycling center, it does not count all the waste that is improperly disposed of, either purposefully or inadvertently, and ends up in our streams and rivers, and eventually in the ocean. So what happens to the plastic waste we recycle? Until recently, we shipped most of it to China. In 2016, China imported two-thirds of the world’s plastic waste. In 2018, that ended. China abruptly announced that they would no longer receive plastics or many other recyclables from the USA or Europe. This put the recycling industry into a tailspin. Some of the waste we use to ship to China is now being shipped to other countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and India; however, much of it is just being sent to landfills. This practice of shipping our plastic overseas has another downside. An article by Jenna Jambeck published in Science found that many of the countries we send our plastics to are mismanaging them. China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia together generate 49.5% of the global mismanaged plastic waste (Jambeck, et al, Science (Feb. 13, 2015), Vol. 347, #6223, pp. 768-771). That leads me to wonder how much of the plastic we send them is ending up in the world’s oceans. So what is the solution? We definitely need to build our own recycling infrastructure so we can process the recyclable plastics ourselves, instead of shipping them overseas. We also need legislation and economic incentives to reduce our dependence on single use plastics. But the biggest, most effective thing any one of us can do is work on reducing our own waste footprint. Imagine a cube of crushed plastic that is eight feet wide, 8 feet deep, and eight feet high. That is how much plastic waste is generated every year by the average American. You and I are the problem, so you and I have to be the solution! What can you do? REDUCE! Avoid buying or using single-use plastics!Carry a reusable water bottle and fill it from a Shaklee Pure Water filter pitcher.Use a real coffee mug, instead of a Styrofoam cup.Refuse plastic straws & plastic utensils – take your own reusable ones.Use reusable cloth grocery bags instead of plastic grocery bags.Buy concentrated products, like Shaklee Basic H.Buy products with less packaging - buy in bulk. (Larger sizes use less packaging per product and usually cost less.)Choose to purchase reusable products, like glass storage containers.Buy products made of or packaged in recycled materials. Take used goods to thrift stores, and buy things from thrift stores.Share things with friends & neighbors. Wash and reuse plastic bags and containers.Be creative – use discardable items for crafts, etc. We got here one piece of plastic at a time. We can solve this problem one piece of plastic at a time. Small things matter and small adjustments to our lifestyles can make a big difference. Together, our small sacrifices of convenience can add up to a major reduction in the amount of plastic and other waste being generated, and that is good for all of us. With every little decision you make, you are either contributing to the problem or being the solution! It’s up to you and me!
I love cotton! I love cotton sheets, looking at fields of cotton, the crisp, clean feel- you know; as the jingle goes "the look, the feel of cotton". But like many other things, becoming informed makes all the difference. I still love cotton, but I will be looking for organic cotton a little harder now. As with anything use your own judgement. We can't live in bubbles, but we can make wise decisions which can make our lives and environment healthier. Here is the scoop on Cotton: Cotton covers 2.5% of the world’s cultivated land It accounts for 24% of the world’s insecticide market Accounts for 11% of sale of global pesticides This is $2.6 billion worth of pesticides making it the most pesticide-intensive crop grown on the planet The World Health Organization has determined, three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides to human health rank in the top ten most commonly used in cotton production These pesticides pesticides wash into the soil and into rivers and streams, where they pollute waterways and damage fragile ecosystems Organic cotton is GMO free Genetically engineered (also called genetically modified or GM) cotton is currently grown on 25 million hectares around the world In many countries farmers reported that animals who grazed in cleared cotton fields on crop debris fell sick or died Many GMO cotton plants have prevented one type of pest while others increased causing the need for more pesticides rather than a reduction In some areas, such as North Carolina, when it is time for crops to be sprayed the neighboring towns suffer from watery eyes, headaches, nausea and dizziness. It has become known as "Cotton Flu" With this in mind I am looking at things like cotton balls, feminine products, diaper inserts etc. differently. As a rule, I feel like I have a better chance with my clothes and linens because I launder them in non-toxic laundry detergent, but what about my face or other delicate places? I use skin care products that protect my skin and neutralizes free radical reactions, do I want to apply it with a cotton ball that may have residue from pesticides? Even worse think of a diaper insert against your baby's delicate places or for you ladies what about your delicate places? It is enough to make me choose organic when I can. Look for organic cotton fabrics, cotton balls, feminine products etc. and if you make inhalers with essential oils consider using organic inserts as a safer alternative. Small changes can make big differences! Enjoy the look and feel, but choose wisely!