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My family used to choose organic brands or dishwashing liquids made by natural materials. Are they really more eco-friendly? Is there any kind of dishwashing liquids eco-friendly?
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Important points to consider beforehand:

  • There is no clear definition of what makes a product ‘eco-friendly’, and all products inevitably have some kind of impact on the environment.
  • A study on dish-washing liquids available in Australia found that, on average, the environmental information found on dish-washing liquid packaging mislead consumers. Brands that claim to be ‘eco-friendly’ are not necessarily so.

Some brands do, however, take greater measures to reduce the environmental impacts of their products.

  • The consumer research organisation Ethical Consumer recommends that people opt for dish-washing liquids that are organic (thereby avoiding artificial chemicals), Fairtrade or homemade.
  • Ethical Consumer also suggest avoiding products which contain toxic chemicals or palm oil (which contributes to deforestation), and that are tested on animals.
  • In this study conducted by Which?, different dish-washing liquid brands available in the UK were compared in terms of their environmental impact. Multiple factors were considered including what percentage of the packaging was recyclable, whether all of the ingredients were derived from petrochemicals/crude oil, whether the ingredients were naturally-derived, whether the product was tested on animals, and whether refills of the product were available.
  • Another factor considered by Which? was the ease of recyclability of product packaging. Certain plastics such as PET are more widely recyclable in the UK than other types, so it is important to consider how easily packaging can be recycled as well as whether it can be recycled at all.
  • The Which? study stated that all of the liquids tested were in some way ‘eco-friendly’, because they all adhered to EU laws on the biodegradability of surfactants (the ingredients that remove grease). EU law requires that a detergent breaks down by at least 60% in 28 days. However, according to The Ecologist, within this time-frame residues from surfactants can build up and cause damage to animals and the environment. Just because a product follows environmental laws, it does not mean that it is necessarily ‘eco-friendly’.
  • According to the Which? study, the main difference between ‘eco-branded’ dishwashing liquids and ‘normal’ dishwashing liquids was that the former were not derived from petrochemicals or crude oil. Instead, more ‘eco-friendly’ brands were based on natural ingredients such as vegetable oils.

Bibliography

Ethical Consumer Research Association Ltd, 'Washing-Up Liquid', Ethical Consumer (April 2017)

Gallagher, P., 'How eco-friendly is your washing-up liquid?', Which? (2020)

Polonsky, M. J., Bailey, J., Baker, H., Basche C., Jepson C. and Neath L., 'Communicating Environmental Information: Are Marketing Claims on Packaging Misleading?', Journal of Business Ethics, 17.3 (February 1998), 281-294

Thomas, P. 'Behind the Label: Fairy Liquid', The Ecologist (February 2009)

Williams, A., 'How green really are eco-friendly washing-up liquids?', Which? (April 2019)

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