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CHOICE Callout - Eco and ethical product labelling

Hi there, my name is Jarni and I’m an investigative journalist with CHOICE. CHOICE is looking into the issue of environmental and ethical labelling of products and needs your help. Have you seen companies making dubious eco or ethical claims about their products that you think warrants further investigation? Send us a tip off below or email to jblakkarly@choice.com.au

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Here is a nice one. Earth Choice Laundry powder. The blurb says:

Earth Choice Ultra Concentrate Laundry Powder is naturally tough on stains with no harsh chemicals.

Authentic
For over 40 years, Earth Choice has pioneered green approaches to product, packaging and processes - setting the standard for the future of cleaning and leading the way in Australia.

Powerful
Nature is powerful but it takes more than plants to make an Earth Choice product. Each formulation contains powerful active ingredients sourced from natural elements, rather than petrochemicals to create a powerful cleaning solution that’s gentle on the earth.

Attainable
Tough on stains, gentle on the wallet Earth Choice believes in prioritising planet over profit, it exists to ensure Australians have access to natural cleaning solutions that don’t harm the earth. Always meeting the needs of families, stocking where you shop, and selling at an affordable price.

Earth Choice Ultra Concentrate Laundry Powder.
Touch on stains, gentle on nature.

Sourced from nature

  • Plant based formula.
  • No petrochemical cleansers.
  • Reduce chemical waste & pollution.
  • Free from ammonia & chlorine.
  • Biodegradable (Surfactants are readily biodegradable according to Australian Standard AS4351).

Grey water & septic safe

  • Septic safe.
  • Low sodium.

Recycled & recyclable

  • Box made using 95% recycled packaging.

Cruelty free / vegan

  • Not tested on animals / CCF accredited.
  • Free from animal derived ingredients.

Australian made & owned

Here are the ingredients from the MSDS

Chemical Name CAS Number Proportion (%)
Sodium Carbonate 497-19-8 30 – 60
Sodium Sulfate 7757-82-6 10 – 30
Sodium Citrate 6132-04-3 10 – 30
Sodium Bicarbonate 144-55-8 10 – 30
Sodium Methyl Ester Sulfonate 149458-07-1 < 10
Sodium Aluminosilicate 1344-00-9 < 10
Sodium Oleate 143-19-1 < 10
Bentonite 1302-78-9 < 10
Cellulose Gum 9004-32-4 < 10
Fragrance - < 1

Naturally tough. No harsh chemicals. Sourced from natural elements. No petrochemicals. Low sodium. Doesn’t harm the earth

The only one I can say is true and that has a clear meaning is no petrochemicals.

Lets look at the others:

Naturally tough
What does that mean? It seems to suggest that the ingredients are natural. But they are not, all are processed or synthesised with the possible exception of bentonite which is a mineral. As for tough you just have to take their word for it.

No harsh chemicals
Once again what does that mean? They are all chemicals so the claim is none are harsh. Get some sodium carbonate, the main ingredient, in your eye and tell me how harsh it is.

Sourced from natural elements
If you mean “elements” in the chemical sense unless they are in possession of atomic reactor able to produce synthetic elements this is trivially true. Perhaps it means natural components. Nup that ain’t true as nearly all are synthetic.

Doesn’t harm the earth
Puffery with no particular meaning.

Low sodium
Did anybody tell the author that the first seven ingredients, that make up something like 90% of the mix, are sodium compounds? For several reasons it is impossible to compute the % of sodium from the data given but I will bet it is substantial.

The first 4 items are adjuncts the main active ingredient is the fifth, Sodium Methyl Ester Sulfonate. This is not naturally occurring. It is a synthetic detergent made from a plant oil; palm, coconut and castor oil can be used apparently, quite possibly others. But it isn’t petrochemical! Wouldn’t it be amusing if it was made from palm oil, the bete noir of those the product is aimed at.

All rather dubious in my opinion.

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Lots of dodgy marketing spiel for sure, but you missed one other natural ingredient, zeolite.

Are Sodium, Aluminium, Silicon,Sulphur, Carbon etc not a natural elements? :wink: No need for alchemy or atomic reactors there, the ocean and crust have plenty of them.

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I’ve not bothered to read the blurb, as it is one of the few laundry powders that we can buy locally that are supposedly more friendly to grey-water systems.

‘Powerful’ and ‘Naturally Tough’ we ignore. It does an OK job with our roof top rain water, on a warm wash cycle. I suspect it does even better with a hot wash. The grass, plant sap, tractor dirt and beetroot dye stains tend to wash out leaving some faded residual over time. It’s how I know they are the outside wear.

It would be wonderful to simply have an agreed nationally applied standard for products that are certified independently as functional and low impact for off grid systems. Water is the only one I can currently vouch for.

Truely Natural Alternatives:
An extract from the leaves of the Alphitonia excelsa, might be an option (aka Soap tree). Although the crushed leaves and berries were also used in traditional fishing.

P.S.
The trees nearby the grey water trench (acacias, paper barks and sannanthas) all seem to be happy, with the Earth Choice laundry detergent and Dishwashing products. The grease trap is also low maintenance.

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I think one which is quite deceptive is labelling of ‘bamboo fabrics’ such as rayon/viscose…which was covered in detail here:

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Wash in cold water rather than warm or hot. Tomato stains are similar and drying in sunlight will bleach the stains out as they are broken down by UV light.

Saponicas are toxic to fish and stop oxygen uptake via the gills, mostly stuns them but can kill as well. Washing hands and rinsing off is not going to hurt us at all. In a washing machine I’m not sure how that will go :grinning:

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I make no comment on the efficacy of the product just the greenwashing. Where do you put the outflow of your greywater system? Depending on what you do with it, the amount of product you use and your soil type you may be sodizing (making saline) your soil, especially near the outflows.

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Grease trap and Sub-surface absorption trench 30m long. Choice of the previous owner and council plumber. There’s a mound and treed vegetation buffer between the trench and the nearest water course. We are partly on creek flats, Quaternary alluvium, (BVG1M: 22a).

Interesting and useful comment regarding the potential risk.

It’s a naturally acidic environment that suits the local frogs. Typically Qld RE 12.3.5 at the low end. My guide to growing things - is it native, does it have swamp in the common name, or come from one. Also explains why the most common and recent snake encounters (last week) have been with keel back and red belly black snakes.

(Edit added)
It might be that irrespective of the green credentials and spin products that are eco friendly in one environment are not suitable in another. At least for those off the sewage grid?

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Just to clarify. Sodicity and salinity are two different soil (physical) characteristics.

Sodicity is principally Na/sodium ions dominating cations in the soil. It is usually measured by exhangeable sodium percentage (ESP).

Salinity is the level of salts, which may include sodium salts. It is measured by electrical conductivity.

Detergents typically have a greater effect on sodicity than salinity. This is due to the wetting and soil/fat dispersing agents being sodium compounds.

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In this formulation the detergent is a minor component, the main ingredients are simple sodium salts. It is hard to say from the data supplied but it looks like about 80-85% sodium salts by weight.

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I make my own cleaners. It serves a number of purposes:

  1. It’s all natural and doesn’t make me sick
  2. Not throwing containers etc into the landfil
  3. Using everyday products and fruit to clean instead of throwing it out.
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A vast majority of the labelling is so awful there’s no point.

One major manufacturer has a habit of putting a “fold” in the wrapping, at the back of the packet, which folds neatly over the top of all the “disclosure” stuff you want to read - so that you can’t even see it, let alone read it.

Standard practice is to use lettering that’s so tiny I’d need to use a magnifying glass to read it - if it’s supposed to be telling me something, it doesn’t - because it cannot - and that has to be intentional, because all stuff THEY want you to read is in HUGE letters.

To make that worse - the colours lack contrast and often the printing itself is blurry - making it even harder to read it.

One that annoys me is “contains vegetable oils”. Really? - so there’s no “mineral oils” in it? What are you trying to hide? - the fact you’re using “cheap” vegetable oils, such as palm oils? - just in case anyone points out that your product is responsible for damage to tropical rain forests? Or is it the controversial “Canola oil” - once used as machine oil, during World War 2, but now fed to humans all over the world? - controversial, because there are constant accusations that it causes cancer? Oh - we’ll never know if that’s what you’ve put in our “food”, because you only meniont in passing that there are “vegetable oils” and deny all knowledge as to what that means.

Why is “salt” buried in the fine print, as “750 mg of sodium per serve”? Then we have to pump it through the calculator we always forget to take to the supermarket (DAMN!), and multiply that figure by 2.55, to translate it into “salt content” - only to find it’s 1.9 gms of salt per serve. The National Heart Foundation tells us that the maximum safe daily intake of salt for a young healthy person with no family history of heart disease is only 5gm PER DAY (not “per serve”!) and for someone like me, with actual heart disease, that drops to a maximum of 2gm of salt per day. So practically any tinned or packet soup in Coles or Woolworths uses up my daily allowance, on one dish, for one meal. No more salt for me for the rest of that meal, or for either of the other two meals.

The point of dragging you through that is quite simple. Hardly anyone buying their food in supermarkets is aware of it. And the labelling is clearly calculated to prevent them from doing anything about it anyway.

Frankly, food product labelling in Australia is barbaric - and just a bloody great joke.

There is little or no attempt by food manufacturers or their retailers to provide consumers with far and reasonable disclosure of what’s in it.

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This kind of oblique sledge is like the politician who says to another, “They say you have stopped beating your wife”. When challenged the speaker replies, “I can’t be responsible for what they say”.

If you want to tell us canola causes cancer come out and say it and show your evidence.

Surely every cosmetic add tells untruths which obviously can’t be proved yet they get away with them.
Can’t understand how the authorities allow this.

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Welcome @GeoffPW
As a result of being in lockdown for long periods of time during the pandemic, I got creative and passed the time looking up the ingredients in my shampoo, skin cream, toothpaste.
The result is a bit frightening, especially that the information against some form of chemical did not tell me that the substitute was just as bad, if not worse.
For example: Sodium Laureate Sulphate detergent ( laureth sulphate is also the ingredient in my dishwashing liquid) is a good cleanser but can strip the hair of sebum and make it unruly and prone to breakage. Some shampoos claim they are SLS free but substitute it with Sodium Olefin Sulfonate which can be even more drying and cause irritation, but it is liked because produces a lot of foam! This Olefin Sulfonate is in a shampoo I used recently which made my scalp red and itchy.

Preservatives are needed to prolong shelf life and to stop bacteria from growing especially in a hot and steamy bathroom environment, but Parabens are concerning because scientific studies suggest they can disrupt hormones in the body and can increase the risk of cancer.
I found the replacements to be alarming: methylisothiazolinone and methychloroisothiazoline are preservatives which have been linked to lung toxicity and possibly neurotoxicity. And the antimicrobial DMDM Hydantoin, is a Formaldehyde releaser. (Formaldehyde is used to preserve corpses.) The International Agency for Cancer Research has classified it as a human carcinogen.

The ubiquitous in face creams,
Polyethylene glycols (Pegs), make ingredients, good or bad, absorbed faster into deeper parts of the skin, and can also reduce the skin’s moisture levels and speed up skin ageing.

I have stopped looking, I can’t afford to throw out any more personal care products :laughing:

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It’s called Puffery and as long as it doesn’t go too far it is perfectly legal just in my opinion immoral at the least and I would like it to be cut down to much less puffery to remain legal.

We have a topic about it on this site

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While I am now 82 and retired from being a chemist, not in formulating cosmetics, I am fairly aware of ingredients etc.
Shampoo and toothpaste are designed to clean and therefore need surfactants to do the job. They are only in contact with your skin for a short time but if you find you have a reaction change product. It might not be that ingredient but a combination.
Re preservatives they need to be “poisonous “ to do their job. They are there in such minute quantities and you use so little ‘Don’t worry’. You would prefer there not be mould growth.
Don’t throw out, use in min amounts to do the job or use for hand cleaner. Yes, stop reading ingredients if they worry you. If you Google virtually anything just about everything causes cancer etc, but in what concentration etc.
What I find interesting is that even the high $ products have many of the same ingredients (because they work), often hidden with lots of non cleaning additives but the cost of ingredients is virtually nothing compared to the selling price.

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I have noticed that too.
But a few of the very expensive ones have Caviar extract :laughing::laughing:

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Why don’t they just call it fish egg stuff?

Is it really stuff from a sturgeon?
Unless the labelling is very concise it might just be fats or fish oil extracted from mullet caught near the local sewage outflow!! :roll_eyes:

‘Uranium or plutonium enriched cream’ might also be a big seller for that lingering afterglow. :rofl::rofl::rofl:

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I’ve come accross some of the preservatives approved by the ACO such as Naticide, Ascorbic acid, Grapefruit seed oil…why not use those if they do a good job as preservatives?
Would rather not use formaldehyde while I’m still alive😆

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