Grade: tool kit toilet read

Assessing the sustainability of products

  1. Macro-areas we can work on
  2. Raw materials: "natural" VS "synthetic", "from organic farming"
  3. Packaging: renewable sources, up-cycling, reusable, recyclable, compostable
  4. Biodegradability, toxicity and eco-toxicity, bioaccumulation

Let's say we have a product, any product, and we want to evaluate its eco-sustainability. Where do we start? What do we look at?
With this article I would like to try to give you some guidelines to identify the choices made by the various manufacturers.

Almost all interventions aimed at increasing the eco-sustainability of a product focus on the following 5 macro-areas:

  1. Raw materials: the focus is on the "ingredients" that go into making the product. Where they come from, whether they are renewable, whether they contain contaminants, what processes they must undergo to be used, etc.
  2. Processing: this examines the processing of a product, the resources (energy and water) it consumes, the emissions and waste it produces and how these can be treated.
  3. Container or packaging: here we look at the container material, at the balance between resources and waste during its production, at whether the container is then reusable or recyclable, etc..
  4. Distribution: how does the product reach our homes? Because the product can be very well made, but if it has to fly halfway around the world to get to us, then it might not be worth it.
  5. Effects of residues on the environment: once used, what effect "what's left" of the product has on the environment?

Each of these areas is its own world of details, pros and cons, economic tradeoffs and available technology, so it's not reasonable to expect the consumer to consider everything.

However, having at least a general idea is the only way we can choose what's most important to us. And then what we want to focus on in order to become more eco-friendly.

Now that we've identified these 5 areas, we can name a few buzz words so that you can confidently flaunt them over beer with friends. Since we're on a blog about detergents, I'll just mention the ones we hear most often in the fabulous world of cleaning.

AREA 1: What are the characteristics of the raw materials used?

Natural VS synthetic origin: we are talking about the origin and processing that raw materials must undergo to be used. There is no consensus on how to define materials "of natural origin": depending on how strict you are, they can mean raw materials that occur naturally, raw materials produced following the principles of Green Chemistry [1] or raw materials that can be obtained without the use of petroleum or derivatives. Depending on the definition you choose, "synthetic" means everything else.

From organic farming: this means raw materials of plant origin where, during cultivation, no chemical products indicated by the various Regulations have been used. It also rejects genetically modified organisms and a series of practices considered too invasive for the environment. There is no scientific consensus on the fact that this type of agriculture has a lower overall environmental impact than traditional agriculture or that the products have greater nutritional qualities [2].

AREA 3: What characteristics does the packaging have?

From renewable sources: the material of which the packaging is made comes from resources that regenerate over time, such as paper, bamboo or cotton.

From up-cycling: the material of the container comes from the processing of waste materials from other industries. In this way, that waste will enjoy a second life instead of being thrown away.

Reusable: the container itself can be reused as is, without the need for any processing other than washing.

Recyclable: the container material undergoes an often resource-intensive processing and is used to make other products from the same material.

Materials are divided into those that lose quality during recycling (paper, plastic) and those that - almost - do not lose any (glass and metal).

Compostable: after being degraded, the material can be safely incorporated into the soil, enriching it.

AREA 5: What happens to waste?

Biodegradability: this quantity describes how much a substance can be reduced into simpler components by the action of microorganisms. Biodegradation can be complete (ultimate), when the products of degradation are stable substances, not "breakable" any further, or not complete (primary), when less complex but not yet stable products are formed [3].

Toxicity: when nothing else is specified, it usually indicates the toxic effect the component has if ingested or touched. This is the quantity you want to look at when a product is made for skin contact (cosmetics, detergents, medicines in ointment...) or ingestion (food, oral medications...).

Eco-toxicity: here we are talking about toxic effects on living organisms but within ecosystems. This is the value we look at when trying to assess how harmful the release of a particular compound into the environment is.

Bioaccumulation: it's when certain substances can accumulate within organisms, reaching higher concentrations than in the surrounding environment and thus increasing their dangerousness.

With these basic concepts in hand, we can now turn to our beloved ecological household detergents ecological household detergents and discover the various types, pros and cons, and how they can be more sustainable.

poolito says

Nothing, just definitions, what are we to say???