In its latest guide on ethical cleaning products, Ethical Consumer highlights a ‘complete lack of clarity for consumers’ across the industry on the use of non-biodegradable and poorly degradable ingredients hidden inside products.
Researchers investigated, scored and ranked the ethical and environmental record of 70 popular cleaning products across the washing up liquid, laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent markets.
The criteria used to assess companies’ ethical rankings included plastic packaging, palm oil, animal testing, carbon management practices and hidden ingredients such as microplastics, liquid polymers and surfactants.
The ethical watchdog recently updated its criteria on microplastics and liquid polymers after a report by CodeCheck, published last year, highlighted concerns about the non-biodegradable substances remaining in our bodies and the ecosystem for years to come, with unknown consequences.
Legal loopholes for ‘biodegradable’
‘Surface-active agents’ (surfactants) are the main active ingredient in detergents. They work by keeping dirt suspended in the water.
EU and UK law requires that surfactants used in domestic detergents must biodegrade with oxygen present and break down by 60% within 28 days.
However, these rules do not apply to other common ingredients, which can include liquid polymers or microplastics.
‘The long-term effects of non-biodegradable polymers remaining in our environment are unknown, but we could avoid using them.
‘We understand the complexities of operating in this climate, but we really need companies in the cleaning product industry to set the precedent here; to invest in research, and look further than what’s defined in UK or EU laws when compiling ingredients. Liquid polymers are slipping through the net – and straight down our drains.’
Ethical Consumer researcher
A call for transparency
While the law catches up with ongoing scientific research into the long-term environmental and health implications of non-biodegradable substances, researchers felt that cleaning brands should be more transparent with customers.
Researchers suggested printing a clear statement on their use of these ingredients to provide as much clarity as possible to consumers on their current policy, plus any work being undertaken to find better alternatives. Where this was missing or inadequate, companies were marked down.
Microplastics and liquid polymers
Brands that were found to use liquid polymers in their cleaning products are Ecozone, Fill Refill, Smol and SC Johnson, owner of Ecover and Method.
Thee was no clear statement found about microplastics and liquid polymers on cleaning products from Astonish, ecoLiving, EcoVibe, McBride (Surcare), Prism (Eco-Max) and Procter & Gamble (Ariel, Bold, Daz, Fairy). No statement was found on ATTITUDE, Easy or Splosh cleaning products.