A case for greener cleaners 

Closing the loop on what’s going down with what’s going down the drain

Most of us pay some kind of attention to the foods we choose. If you’re not a gourmand, sussing out the best cuts of lamb or some obscure cheese, I bet you still put some effort into seeking out your food favourites, even if that means Kraft Dinner Original over the Three Cheese variety.

But at the other end of the food chain, as in what goes down the drain when you clean up after dinner, it can be a whole different ball game.

At that point a lot of folks seem to blank out, having no concept – or no cares? – about what happens beyond the black holes at the bottom of their sinks. The mouth-holes, the stomach pits, these are orifices worthy of utmost care and attention. As for the drain hole, it’s still a case of away she goes, and good riddance – out of sight, out of mind.

It may be a case of cleaning up like mom did or the way TV commercials urge you to. Or convenience: grabbing what’s on sale or the first thing on the shelf. But come on, people – we’re long overdue for coming to terms with our pretty unclean cleaning habits. I mean, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring came out in 1962, for Pete’s sake.

Carson, a renowned author and former marine biologist, put the proliferation of DDT in her scientific crosshairs, exposing how it remained toxic in the environment long after its initial application and indiscriminately destroyed far more than the so-called pests it was aimed at.

Shortly before she died of breast cancer in 1964, Carson said, "Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself…"

Carson’s message extrapolates perfectly to our "war" against dirt.

Advertisers of cleaning products at the turn of the 20th century quickly learned that they could sell far more product to eager housewives by playing on moral righteousness. Cleanliness, after all, was next to godliness. But this ancient proverb, Hebrew in origin, and reworked for a sermon circa 1790 by Anglican clergyman/evangelist, John Wesley, is now totally past its expiry date.

Contrary to bringing us closer to God, scientists now say that we are cleaning ourselves, and our planet, to oblivion. For instance, several studies indicate that the $16-billion-a-year antibacterial soap industry, while playing on people’s fears, is in fact fuelling stronger, more resistant bacteria.

More to the point, antibacterials and all those petrochemical nasties in conventional cleaners that can’t be treated by our wastewater treatment plants are ending up in our streams and watersheds.

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