Household Products

Household Products29 Oct 2010 12:44 pm

White lies, palm-free

The other day, my daughter asked for help with a school assignment that required her to write a list of things she could do to prevent deforestation. Her list already included some obvious items to do with saving or recycling paper, but she needed more. I explained that because tropical forests are being ripped up to make way for palm-oil plantations, some people are avoiding products made with palm oil, such as Dove soap. “But Dad,” she protested, “then why do WE use Dove soap?”

Why, indeed? Lacking enough knowledge about the alternatives, I had allowed our family to stick with this old habit. I knew that the main culprit in the expansion of the palm-oil plantations was biodiesel for the European market. But significant quantities go into soap and foods, so it was worth looking for alternatives. These proved to be difficult to find. In my local Pick n Pay, every bar of soap had either sodium palm kernelate, sodium palmate or sodium palmitate on its list of ingredients. Liquid soaps never have these ingredients, but they come in wasteful, disposable pump packaging. (They also probably have other unsavoury ingredients, but I already steer clear of antibacterial soaps and I’m just trying to save the rainforest for now.)

The trick seemed to be finding a bulk refill liquid soap so that I could keep reusing the pumps that are already in my house. Single-use refills invariably come in unrecyclable pouches, so they’re not particularly helpful. I never found bulk hand soap in any ordinary store, but a factory shop near my home carries five-litre containers of Plush Pearly Lotion Soap. It has no list of ingredients and I have no way to verify the “biodegradable” claim on the label. I am confident that it contains no palm oil, however. It may not have a particularly exotic scent or produce the most luxuriant lather I’ve ever come across, but it works very well. I quietly placed it in every bathroom and shower in the house, and no one has even noticed. And at R94.50 for five litres, I calculate that it costs one-quarter the price of single-use pumps by volume. So saving the rainforests is saving me a few rands to put aside for a rainy day.

Household Products24 Jan 2009 12:46 pm

Not as green as it looks

Not as green as it looks

I’ve just finished writing an article for Red: the Green Magazine about a rather personal issue. Friends and relatives scoffed and chuckled when they heard that I was researching the environmental implications of toilet paper, but by the time I was finished I saw my father-in-law carrying a 9-roll pack of greener loo-paper home from the store. My wife has also switched to the environmentally friendly option.

So which paper is best? Good ol’ cheap 1-ply. Any brand will do because they are virtually all made from recycled paper, but if you want the added benefit of knowing that your roll hasn’t been rolling down the highway accumulating a carbon footprint, Twinsaver is made in Cape Town, Durban and Gauteng, so you are virtually assured of a local roll if you buy it in one of those areas. Carlton is only made in Gauteng. Otherwise, look for a local manufacturer.

I’ve heard all the arguments against 1-ply. People say it actually costs more because you have to use twice as much. This is wrong on three counts. For starters single ply is more than half as thick as double ply, 5/8s as thick to be precise. And there are 500 sheets on a 1-ply roll—or should be—and only 350 sheets on a 2-ply roll. Finally, research suggests that people use about the same number of sheets regardless of the thickness.

The other argument against 1-ply is that it is rougher. I cannot deny that it is not quite as soft. So keep one roll of extravagant, environmentally noxious, virgin 2-ply on hand for those moments when some unmentionable condition makes you tender down there. And let us know if you find a 1-ply that you think is softer than most.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on any high-priced bog roll purporting to be “green.” If you want to know why, you can read the full article from Red below:

How many trees have you flushed down the toilet in your lifetime? The South African paper industry is equipped to manufacture 4.7 kilograms of tissue a year for every man, woman and child in the country. So it is a reasonable estimate that consumers of tissue made from virgin wood will consume about a tree every decade.

Fortunately, South Africans have a large and growing range of options to reduce their loo-print, ranging from toilet paper made from sugar-cane fibre to 100-percent-recycled, 2-ply rolls. With choice comes confusion, however, and paying extra for green marketing may not help the environment. Often the cheapest rolls are also the greenest. When buying toilet tissue, saving the environment and saving money can go hand in hand.

For decades, most South Africans have been using 100 percent recycled toilet paper—without paying an extra cent. These shoppers did not even know they were making the environmentally friendly choice, though they might have noticed a few speckles in the paper that suggested its former existence as office paper. Three-quarters of the toilet rolls sold in South Africa are single-ply rolls that are usually tree-free, something shoppers would never know from reading the labels. The more expensive, two-ply toilet tissue is mostly made from virgin wood pulp.

The problem with virgin toilet paper is not the lost trees—they generally come from forest plantations where each harvested tree is replaced by a seedling. But toilet paper from wood pulp unleashes a host of other assaults against the environment for a product that gets used for only a few seconds. Tree farms take up land that could otherwise be home to diverse natural forests. The conventional pulping and papermaking process uses twice as much water and far more energy than recycled toilet paper. And logs, pulp and tissue are regularly shipped all the way across South Africa, adding to virgin paper’s expansive carbon footprint. Recycled toilet paper, by contrast, is often sourced, manufactured and sold all in the same city.


Household Products &Uncategorized &Water Pollution16 Feb 2007 04:10 pm

My wife and I made a decision today to not buy any more anti-bacterial soaps. We had regularly kept a pump dispenser of Savlon or I.C.U. Homecare Hygienic Liquid Handwash at the kitchen sink. But the more I read about anti-bacterial soaps, the less that I think this is a good idea.

I have not seen conclusive studies that fish or other animals are dying from the anti-bacterial chemicals used in these soaps. But there are worries. Some of them are known to be toxic to fish, such as Chloroxylenol, which is used in Dettol. Some are very persistent in the environment. Triclosan and Triclocarban (Trichlorocarbanilide), related chemicals that are found in Protex, Gill, Savlon and Cuticura soaps, are commonly found in river water.

Rolf Halden, assistant professor of the Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health has published research on these chemicals and says, “Triclocarban does not break down easily even under the intense measures applied during wastewater treatment.” That doesn’t prove that it causes harm, but here’s Harden’s worry:

“We’ve been using triclocarban for almost half a century at rates approaching 1 million pounds per year, but we have essentially no idea of what exactly happens to the compound after we flush it down the drain.”

I.C.U. uses the one antibacterial agent that is at least biodegradable, glutaraldehyde, but even that doesn’t make it entirely benign. The fact is that if a chemical is designed to kill living organisms, we should not be surprised to learn that it has a dark side.

If these soaps made my family healthier and safer from harmful germs, then we would have to weigh those benefits against rather uncertain environmental concerns. Fortunately numerous studies suggest there is no such trade-off. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee voted unanimously on October 20, 2005 that there was a lack of evidence supporting the benefit of consumer products including handwashes, bodywashes, etc. containing antibacterial additives over similar products not containing antibacterial additives.

In other words, soap is soap. You don’t have to kill those germs; you just have to wash them off your hands. The New York Times says:

Over the years, studies have repeatedly shown that antibacterial soaps are no better than plain old soap and water.

One study, published in The Journal of Community Health in 2003, followed adults in 238 households in New York City for nearly a year.

Month after month, the researchers found no difference in the number of microbes that turned up on the hands of people who used either antibacterial soap or regular soap. At least four other large studies have had similar findings.

Some governments actively discourage the use of antibacterial soaps, probably because of the yet-unproven possibility that they could foster antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So here’s an easy decision: I can keep my family just as healthy, save money and keep dubious chemicals out of our waterways.